Solidarity in the Storm: Cuba in the Wake of Hurricane Matthew

Havana.

I have been waiting all evening to send this preliminary report,
hoping I would be able to have communication with the community
 of San Antonio del Sur in the southern coastal strip of
 Guantánamo Province that was also among the areas most severely hit by Hurricane Matthew in eastern Cuba.

But phone lines are down and loss of electricity means that cell
phones can’t be charged up – so for now I’m
 sending some information only about the town of Baracoa located
on Guantánamo’s northern coast.

The four municipalities of Baracoa, Imías, Maisí and San
Antonio del Sur in Cuba’s eastern Guantánamo Province
are perhaps the areas that have been most strongly lashed by
 Hurricane Matthew. A lot of details and images are already
available in Internet – particularly in CubaDebate -
about the impact of this hurricane and in the very near future,  
we’ll know the exact dimensions of the destruction
it’s left in its wake.

 For the moment, it is important to say that due to Cuba’s incredibly efficient and timely disaster preparedness, its broad
and well-organized Civil Defense system, the massive assistance
of a hurricane-wise and hurricane-experienced population and a
 deep commitment by the state to protect human life –
irst and foremost – there are no reported deaths.

Among
 other things, this is due to evacuation of people living in
potentially dangerous areas, such as along the coast and in lowlands susceptible to flooding.

 In Guantánamo Province alone, 227,598 people were evacuated
f whom 182,281 (80%) were provided shelter in the homes of fmily and friends – yet another example of Cuba’s
 characteristic solidarity in times of need – and 45,508 were
housed in state-provided and provisioned shelters.

To give you a more personal insight into the impact of the
hurricane, I’d like to quote from a phone conversation I received earlier this evening (6pm) from Emercelda, a friend
rom Baracoa who surprisingly found her phone still working when
 she briefly returned to her ocean-sogged home – located just
across the street from the Malecón (seawall) – to see the etent of the damage. I’ve included some comments in 
rckets to provide additional information.

“There’s not so much wind right now but
 there’s still lots of rain. There’s lots of people
 walking on the streets right now, shaking their heads and
extremely sad about the extent of the damage. Almost every home
 in Baracoa [where 50,000 of the municipality’s 80,000 residents live] has lost either their entire roof or part of the
oof. 
ll the wooden houses have been flattened to the ground.

Lots of
 large tanks holding water on top of homes and other structures
 were knocked to the ground, even those full of water. [A 1,000-
litre tank weighs one ton.] This happened at our home as well.
 The waves reached the top of the house [two stories] and
 completely carried away our roof that was being held down with
 heavy sand bags.

 Even the solid homes suffered.

Along Calle Martí
[Baracoa’s main street] virtually all the homes that rent
rooms to tourists lost their fronts – doors, windows,
 walls. Everything taken away by Matthew. Everything has been damaged or destroyed, even strong hotels. Hotel La Rusa lost its
oofing tiles and we found its large sign in front of our home,
completely blown off! Hotel Porto Santo is gone. 
ll the rooms are without a roof. Other hotels lost their doors
 and roofing tiles as well, even one of the newer ones being
 built in the city centre.

And in front of our house on the
Malecón side, we found part of the children’s rides
 that were swept up by the winds from the children’s
 playground. [It’s about half a kilometre between their
 home and this particular playground.]

But people are most concerned about food. Some of the panaderias
(bread shops) have been completely destroyed. The one we use has had its roof completely blown off. There’s nothing to
ook with. The entire city is without electricity as all the eectric posts have been knocked down, everywhere.
 There’s no gasoline. No one can use wood as everything is 
e. 

oe people have a bit of kerosene but of course there’s 
nohng in the stores to buy and many stores are damaged. Just 
befr the hurricane hit Cuba, stores were selling things like 
chice and ice cream for very low prices as they had no 
freezr to store and protect them. The lines were so long to 
buy thns that some doors got broken from the pressure!

For my
 family, I have a bit of kerosene which I’ve taken to my
 sister’s home, in the neighbourhood of Paraíso, where
we’re staying.

 But she has no phone, and we can’t charge up my husband’s cell phone.

We’re also unable to get out
 of the city to see how my mother is doing, as there’s so
much debris and the roads are impassable because of all the trees that have been knocked down, and there’s no
asoline anyway. I’ve heard her home has collapsed but we cn’t find out anything for sure.

Everyone is feeling very isolated. La Farola [the main road over
the mountains connecting Baracoa with the provincial capital of
 Guantánamo] is damaged and transport can’t pass. The bridge over the Toa River has been destroyed so there’s
o communication with Moa. [This evening’s 8pm news said
 that of the 200-metre long bridge over the Toa River, connecting Bracoa on the northern coast with Moa in neighbouring
 Holguín Province, only 50 metres are still standing!]

Some
 people have heard on their radios that potable water and food is
 already being distributed to people in need in Santiago de Cuba,
 but nothing like this is yet happening here.

 Some electrical workers – linemen and others – who
 came to Baracoa before the hurricane hit have said it may be two
weeks before the city’s electricity is repaired. They said the damage is so extensive it’ll have to be fixed
 house by house. [An advance group of over 800 workers from the
ountry’s Electrical Union, UNE, coming from Cuba’s
 western provinces, have been in Sancti Spíritus Province
 since Monday, waiting to assist with recuperation in the eastern
 provinces as soon as the hurricane passed.]

Matthew was a Category 5 hurricane when it left Baracoa. It was
 stationary for two hours over Baracoa! With 260 km/hr winds.
 [Reported gusts reached 300 km/hr!] No one here has ever seen
 such a hurricane as this in Baracoa! It’s so sad to look
at the surrounding mountains. It’s as if a huge chain was pulled over them and taken down all the trees! All the mountains
 are bare! [This is one of the most densely forested parts of
 Cuba!]

 But there are no deaths, no injuries. And we can be proud of
hat.”

As for the Southern Coastal Strip, though I haven’t yet
 been able to get direct information, I’ve already heard
 from friends in Havana who have family living in San Antonio del
 Sur. In this small community alone, some 60 homes have been
completely destroyed and over 100 others partially destroyed.

 The nearby Valle de Caujerí, a super productive valley that
 is the bread basket for this region as well as providing foods for the city of Guantánamo, was completely flooded and lost
 much of its productive crops.

The Sabanalamar River, which passes
through the town of San Antonio del Sur before entering the sea,
quickly flooded its banks.
In the area of Bate Bate, located to the west of San Antonio del
 Sur in the same municipality, some 7 km of road were completely
 destroyed. This is the same road that goes over La Farola and
 ultimately connects with Baracoa. However, a temporary passage
way was quickly prepared and the town of San Antonio del Sur is ow connected with the provincial capital.

Tomorrow I should be receiving more news from Baracoa as
 Emercelda told me there are several other people who want to
 call me, plus try to find a working computer with enough battery
power to send some images. As soon as I get more information,
 I’ll prepare another little report.

This report originally appeared on CubaNews.

Susana Hurlich lives in Havana.

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