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Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba

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I’ve been hearing from Canada that there’s not a lot of detailed reporting on the impact of Hurricane Matthew on eastern Cuba, and several in the Canada-Cuba solidarity network have asked that I continue sending out informational backgrounders.

Many groups are already planning and mounting their own hurricane relief campaigns including the broad-based Canadian Network on Cuba (CNC) which has just sent out a call to support the CNC Hurricane Matthew Relief Campaign.

Yesterday I spoke with friends in San Antonio del Sur who explained that though some material assistance is already arriving, the main focus is on reestablishing electricity and communication to all coastal, inland and mountain communities.

Nico, the former director of the local Ecology Station – and now, though retired, working harder than ever to assist local communities on a range of development projects – gave me an update on the tiny community of El Loro, located about five km inland (north) from San Antonio del Sur.

I know this community well as over the years I’ve visited it often. In this tiny village, some nineteen families live in the same number of homes. In addition to subsistence farming, many raise goats and sheep both for family consumption as well as for sale to the state.

Some years back, the community also had a very impressive collective finca (farm) which produced guava and other fruits and vegetables. It’s in this area that Nico himself has an animal husbandry project raising sheep and goats.

But what happened to Nico has happened to everyone: “Even though many animals were taken to higher grounds, the animals suffered a lot during the hurricane. Of the 130 sheep and goats I had, I lost over 50 and other people lost animals as well.

Everyone needs anti-parasitics for their animals as the water the animals are drinking is contaminated from runoff, but there’s nothing available locally for this. The animals we raise are part of our collective food base, but for them to recover we need to help them be in good condition.”

As for the community of El Loro itself, of the nineteen existing homes, only one suffered no damage. The rest were either completely destroyed or lost their entire roof. El Loro now has electricity, but as of yesterday, they were still waiting for materials to arrive with which to repair their homes.

I also spoke with friends in Baracoa, on the other side of the mountains that separate San Antonio del Sur on the southern coastal strip of Guantanamo Province from the northern part of the province. Cuba’s only semi-desert area, and the driest part of the country, is located in this southern coastal strip which normally receives just over 200 mm of rain a year.

The northern coastal area, however, is Cuba’s wettest area, receiving over 3,000 mm of rain a year! The mountain chain is what keeps the water from reaching the southern coastal strip, which has very few surface sources of water with other untapped sources located below ground.

My friend, Emercelda, says that the general situation in Baracoa has improved greatly.

“Almost the entire city now has electricity,” she explains, “Most people now have access to potable water and almost all streets are now cleared of rubble. Today (that is, yesterday), everyone received seven pounds of rice per person at no charge.

No one has a lot to eat but at least there’s something. Most stores, though, are still closed as they lost their roofs. But there’s been some soap and toothpaste available at lower-than-usual prices. Most important, lots of construction materials are now arriving and lots of people are starting to receive roofs at only half the normal price, with the state paying the other 50%.”

To date, detailed overall statistics have not yet been issued about the damages caused by Hurricane Matthew, as some isolated and particularly remote mountain communities are still incommunicado. But day by day, details continue to come out in the daily Granma newspaper, which I’ve summarized below in point form.

(Granma, Oct 14) – The ship AB Goajira (Tango-63), from Venezuela’s Naval Fleet and carrying 375 tons of machinery and construction materials sent by that country to help in recuperation efforts in Guantanamo Province, arrived in Santiago de Cuba’s Guillermon Moncada port.

This first shipment consists of trucks with cranes that can lift 20 tons, dump trucks, cement mixing trucks, water cistern trucks, front end loaders, back hoes, forklifts, etc. It also brought a wet mortar plant, cement silos, 20,000 square metres of roofs for 250 homes and electro-welded meshing used in walls and roofs.

A second shipment is due Saturday on the ship Tango-62 from the Venezuelan Naval fleet. Several other nations and NGOs have also announced sending humanitarian aid during the next days via Santiago de Cuba, which has adopted measures to transport the materials and supplies to those areas most affected by Hurricane Matthew.

(Granma, Oct 14) – Some 313 Haitian migrants and four migrants from the Dominican Republic – in a boat on their way to the United States – were abandoned on Cuba’s eastern shore (Maisi) when the man in charge said he had to repair the sails that were damaged by strong winds caused by the approaching hurricane.

Upon arrival, the migrants were immediately taken to an encampment but as the weather worsened, Cuban authorities decided to move them to a safer centre – an agricultural polytechnical institute converted temporarily into a refuge – where Cubans from the coastal area had already been evacuated.

The group of migrants, consisting of 43 children, 56 women and 218 men, said they were very moved to see that they received the same medical and other treatment as the Cubans. Some said they would be returning to Haiti due to concerns about their families after the hurricane. Note: on September 22n the US announced it would be renewing deportations of undocumented Haitians.

(Granma, Oct 15) – Although official statistics are still not available, it’s estimated that for Guantanamo, between 70 and 80% of homes in Baracoa, Maisi, Imias and San Antonio del Sur – especially the first two – were affected by Matthew.

Almost the entire electrical system was damaged with communication completely collapsing due to ruptures in the optical fibre system at various points, and damage to bridges, sewers, stretches of the highway and landslides.

The result: a total lack of communication between Baracoa and Maisi municipalities and the provincial capital. However, for the past several days water supply in Baracoa has been reestablished and Hydraulic Resources is looking at alternatives, such as the use of water tanker trucks, for Maisi.

(Granma, Oct 15) – Pakistan has donated 15,000 tons of rice to Cuba, most of which is destined for the most affected areas in Guantanamo.

This originally appeared in CubaNews.

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Susana Hurlich lives in Havana.

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