Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Unprecedented Destruction and Solidarity

Cubans congratulate themselves for having survived two killer hurricanes thanks to government prevision and its massive evacuation program, considered a great success.

No one was left untouched in one way or another. Over a million people who lost their houses together with family belongings look forward to a long recovery period, while all the 11 million inhabitants of this country see their dreams of change and improvement postponed.

According to official reports, only seven persons lost their lives in these severe climate events called Gustav and Ike, due to negligent acts at that.

Over half a million houses and apartments have been damaged in less than two weeks. But if the sequels of Michelle in 2001 are added, then the total count of houses damaged by weather events surpasses one million units, or 29 percent of all existing houses in the country, according to Victor Ramirez, president of the National Housing Institute, reported official newspaper Granma.

While the first storm Gustav, hurricane force three, was still pummeling Pinar del Rio province, a long line of trucks was already on its way with building material and food for the victims. Little could they imagine that 72 hours separated them from a second, more devastating strike.

The loads were taken directly to the ravaged localities, eliminating all bureaucratic red tape and the people responded with discipline when receiving the donations.

Personal losses, greater in spiritual value than money, are below those in agriculture, industrial plants and facilities, as well as roads and bridges. In a brief paragraph among the damages, Granma reports devastation in crops like bananas, coffee, yucca or mandioca, corn, not to mention sugar cane plantations, poultry farms and roofing, covers of tobacco, green vegetable community orchards and warehouses.

A hike in gasoline and diesel prices was enforced just as Ike was sweeping the island´s geography. That measure immediately shot up private taxi tariffs and will soon extend to foodstuff in farmer markets, whose trucks will have a higher operational cost.

Officials point to a drop in health and education services due to damages suffered by hospitals, clinics and schools. Classes resumed on September 15 throughout the country, although many students whose schools were destroyed had to be transferred to other educational centers or to spaces available as classrooms.

Office workers, journalists and others have been advised that more strict power measures have been applied in public buildings and that those who can work from home are welcome to do so.

Power and water services have also been severely disrupted. Electricity is already being supplied to 96 percent of Havana city consumers, while Granma and Santiago de Cuba provinces are at 99 percent. Pinar del Rio and Isla de la Juventud , worst hit territories, are still at 55 and 67 percent of their consumers. In a still worse situation are Las Tunas, Camaguey and Holguin, with about 30 percent of the service restored.

As for water supply to the cities, the service was restored in many cases as soon as pumping stations had power, but in some cases supply was interrupted due to the turbidity of the water like the one received from Presa El Gato in Havana and others.

Out of over 200 water reservoirs, 87 were alleviating due to the heavy rains. Although the increase in water stored was beneficial, it also caused rivers like those surrounding the city of Matanzas and Guane in Pinar del Rio, to cut them away from the rest of the country.

A total of 96 communication towers collapsed, including five TV antenna towers. Twenty-seven localities were incommunicated and delayed recovery is expected while another 26 were isolated but with a sooner recovery perspective through satellite phones.

Of the seven persons killed, two were electrocuted when trying to take down a TV antenna and it fell on power lines; another two abandoned their evacuation facilities to check up on their homes, one went out from his neighbor´s house into the night and drowned in a nearby river, while two denied to be evacuated and their houses collapsed on them.

According to official figures, a total of 160,000 volunteers and over 2,800 members of the armed forces participated in the rescue and evacuation of 2.7 million Cubans, of whom 2.1 million went to houses of relatives and friends.

The yearly military maneuvers "Bastion" were postponed for next year due to the fact that the armed forces are actively taking part in recovery tasks. That gives analysts the dimension of the damage left by the hurricanes.

Acts of great solidarity and humane behavior are seen everywhere during these difficult days, like a town in Pinar del Rio where all houses but three were left on the ground and the families of the three more solid structures gave shelter to the rest of the neighbors.

Assistance has begun to flow from abroad and domestically. Parishes in Havana have taken by their own means clothing and money directly to the worst hit areas in Pinar del Rio. Publications in the United States are promoting where to send donations. Flights are constantly coming in from Russia, Venezuela, China, Vietnam, Colombia, Brazil, Ecuador, but also from little and worst off nations like Honduras and Timor Leste.

Cuba´s solidarity with nations in distress is being recognized, its selflessness reciprocated.

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