Special feature • Appeal for donations from Canadians, reports from the affected areas and photos
Hurricane Matthew, with winds of 225kph (140mph), struck eastern Cuba on October 4, causing significant and widespread damage. Because of Cuba’s internationally renowned and acclaimed civil defense system, there was no loss of life. However, Baracoa, Cuba’s oldest city and known internationally as one of the most beautiful parts of the island, has been devastated. With a population of more than 80,000, Baracoa has been reduced to rubble. Baracoa resident Osvaldo Neira poignantly underscored the situation, declaring, “We lost everything.”
Cuba will have to expend considerable resources, both immediate and long term, in order to overcome the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Matthew especially in the province of Guantanamo, where the municipalities of Baracoa, Maisi, Imias and San Antonio del Sur took the brunt of the hurricane. To assist Cuba in its immense efforts of recovery and reconstruction, the Canadian Network On Cuba (CNC) is launching a Hurricane Matthew Relief & Reconstruction For Cuba Campaign.
In recent years, the CNC has had a series of successful Hurricane Relief Campaigns. The most recent was in 2012 when Hurricane Sandy struck the island, causing massive damage to Santiago de Cuba. In 2008, the CNC’s most extensive campaign was launched when a series of hurricanes caused damage in excess of $10-billion. The CNC not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, but also directly participated in the construction of a new social and cultural centre on La Isla de La Juventud.
In 2016, as Cuba faces this latest challenge, we are confident that Canadians – as they have repeatedly done – will once again demonstrate their friendship and solidarity with Cuba by supporting the island as it recovers from the ravages of Hurricane Matthew.
Our experience with regard to Cuba’s response to natural disasters is that it knows how to multiply the value of any donations it receives. We feel confident, based on the island’s unsurpassed humanitarian work – both within Cuba and in other countries – that it has the skills, the organization and the ethical and moral values to put whatever assistance it receives to the best possible use. As they have shown throughout their history and especially since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution on January 1, 1959, the Cuban people will successfully overcome this new challenge. Even at this difficult time, Cubans continue to provide relief workers in Haiti.
The CNC urges everyone who so desires to support the Hurricane Matthew Relief & Reconstruction For Cuba Campaign by making a donation. Donations can be made out to the Canadian Network on Cuba and mailed to: Att: Sharon Skup, 56 Riverwood Terrace Bolton, ON L7E 1S4 Please also write “CNC Matthew Relief Fund” on your cheque’s memo line.
On Behalf of the Canadian Network On Cuba
Isaac Saney & Elizabeth Hill , CNC- Co-Chairs
October 16, 2016
GUANTÁNAMO.—What a mystery … amidst the most difficult circumstance, we Cubans always dig up the virtues that best characterize us as a people.
Several days of following Hurricane Matthew’s trail through the country’s eastern provinces has reinforced our pride in having been born in this land, imperfect as it make be, like any other work in progress. We saw so many great things – small and simple things – they can’t fit in these few lines.
Seeing a group of children who have lost practically everything – their books, backpacks, teddy bears and shoes – playing in the rubble, with a Cuba flag waving alongside, makes one’s heart beat a little faster than usual.
What to say about the interminable caravans of electrical, telephone, construction, and transportation workers, who, like ants, have been the first to arrive in disaster zones, under the worst conditions, all with the single-stared flag on their vehicles.
And just when you think you’ve seen or heard it all, another demonstration of solidarity is recounted, acts that prevented a category four hurricane from taking a single human life in Cuba.
That 50, 60, or more people could take refuge in one house was common, and in the darkness, they shared the pain and fear, and the little or much of what they had: a sip of coffee, a towel, or diaper for the baby…
There is Yaliseidy Londres Cobas, a Guantánamo native living in San Germán, one of the most remote settlements in Baracoa, who after taking some 60 people into her home is still accommodating two families who lost everything, telling us that they could stay as long as necessary. There are many more families doing the same here.
So much solidarity and spiritual growth in the face of adversity was captured by a young driver from Guantánamo, who, amazed by the interminable caravans of human and material resources moving toward the First City, Maisi and other affected areas, said, “Man, all of Cuba is in Baracoa.”
MAISÍ, Guantánamo.- “It is now vital to identify the damages precisely and as quickly as possible, in order to determine what is needed in each place,” Army General Raúl Castro Ruz stated during a working meeting held this Monday, October 10, at the Municipal Defense Council. Raúl outlined key issues for the recovery of the municipality of Maisí, where the towns of La Máquina (municipal capital), Punta de Maisí and Los Llanos, were the hardest hit with the passage of Hurricane Matthew.
The President of the National Defense Council was accompanied by Army Corps General Ramón Espinosa Martín, deputy minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, who is currently based in the most affected areas together with other national and local leaders, overseeing the measures implemented in the recovery stage.
Denny Legrá Azahares, president of the Guantánamo Provincial Defense Council, informed the Army General of the major damages caused and the actions currently underway.
He noted that it is estimated that over 90% of homes in the area were severely damaged, as well as the majority of state facilities. Vital services for the population, such as communications, electricity and water supply, were also severely affected.
During the meeting, the negative impact of the atmospheric phenomenon on access routes to this municipality and on agriculture, mainly coffee plantations (Maisí is the largest coffee producer in the country), were also discussed.
Given this situation, Raúl emphasized the urgency of seeking alternatives to ensure the people are provided with necessary resources. Likewise, he stressed the importance of recording all the experience gained from the passage of this weather event, to be used in future scenarios.
The President of the National Defense Council also participated in the meeting which took place at the municipal Party headquarters, where Lina Pedraza Rodríguez, minister of Finances and Prices, informed the presidents of the eight people’s councils in this municipality on how to implement the decision of the revolutionary government as regards the sale of construction materials to those whose homes had been affected.
Residents gathered in the streets to welcome the Cuban President and reiterated their confidence in the Revolution.
“You received a heavy blow, but we will recover,” Raúl assured as he shook hands and received embraces. Meanwhile, the people expressed their thanks over and over again to Fidel and Raúl himself for their constant support.
“This visit strengthens us, it encourages us to keep going,” stated Erodis Fuente López, who offered his home to shelter almost 40 people.
“Trust in us that we will succeed! The most important thing is that we are alive! Send our greetings to the Comandante! Take care!” These some of the messages expressed by the population as Raúl toured the area. Meanwhile, the Cuban President thanked those gathered for their continued resistance and called on them to return to their normal daily activities as soon as possible, in particular the resumption of classes, which he reiterated could take place in any adequate space.
Again there were scenes of emotion and hope as those gathered offered and received advice, anecdotes, and took photos alongside their President.
“I congratulate you because you are courageous, composed and very revolutionary. I’m proud of Cuban women and men across the country, but above all of you, because this has been a very tough test,” Raúl stated in response to the excited cheers of residents.
Solidarity is arriving in areas hit hard by Hurricane Matthew, with recovery efforts beginning without delay. There is much to do, and willpower is not lacking. Photo gallery features scenes along the highway between Imias and Maisí, in Guantánamo province, where the category 4 hurricane made landfall October 4.
The Ministry of Construction; Etecsa (national telephone service provider); Basic Electricity Enterprise; and Sanitation Services in Baracoa are working to reestablish basic services as soon as possible, according to a post by journalist Arelis Alba Cobas – reporting from the city – on her Twitter account.
The reporter stated that the preparation and transportation of food to evacuation centers has been ensured. However, “new facilities to produce other supplies are needed, as the existing ones collapsed.” Meanwhile a series of generators will be made available to support the handling of meats, she added.
Brigades of electricians from Las Tunas, Camagüey and Guantánamo, as well as other provinces, are set to join recovery efforts in Baracoa, while earth-moving teams from Villa Clara and Gramna are active on the La Farola highway.
Alba Cobas also reported that five brigades are working simultaneously to clear roads and remove debris, noting that authorities have already begun to demolish unsalvageable dwellings.
The bridge over the River Toa is one of many structures affected by the hurricane, with only 50 of the 200 foot construction remaining, noted the reporter.
After Hurricane Matthew passed through Cuba’s eastern region, the island’s authorities began to evaluate the damage caused by the storm on October 5, with no fatalities reported at press time.
In contrast to information received from neighboring Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where at least nine and four people, respectively, have been confirmed dead, the latest reports from Baracoa, one of the areas on the island most severely affected by the storm, indicate that no one was injured or is missing.
Although the area remained practically cut-off and without power, through the night of October 4, correspondents in the zone were able to establish telephone communication with the national television station, confirming at that time that no lives had been lost.
Nonetheless, reports from the city, the first to be founded on the island, indicated that the onslaught of Matthew – category four on the Saffir-Simpson Scale at the time – had caused extensive damage to local dwellings and infrastructure.
Along with electricity pylons, the hurricane destroyed the roofs of several hotels, stores, and the Primada Visión broadcast center. Meanwhile, floods, and waves measuring over five meters caused severe damage to the city’s waterfront, according to journalists.
Reporters also noted that various areas in the zone were cut-off, without land access, while landslides, fallen branches, and trees obstructed roads across the region.
According to correspondents, almost 36,000 people were evacuated, 26,500 of whom stayed in the homes of relations.
Initial reports indicated that winds caused by the hurricane began to subside in the island’s eastern region on the afternoon of October 5. Rain, meanwhile, continued to fall in the area, with over 200 millimeters recorded in certain areas, in addition to strong storm surges along the northern coast.
Santiago de Cuba.- On the third day of his working visit to the east of the country, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, President of the Councils of State and Ministers of Cuba, and the National Defense Council, toured various sites of interest in this province, where he reviewed measures being taken ahead of hurricane Matthew.
Accompanied by Lázaro Expósito Canto, president of the Provincial Defense Council, Raúl arrived in the neighborhood of Abel Santamaría, where the Photovoltaic Park Solar Energy Research Center is located, a facility which features a little over 10,000 solar panels, almost 9,000 of which were disassembled, while steps have been taken to ensure that those remaining are protected from strong winds.
In this regard, Raúl noted that much can be learned from every phenomenon, as each one is different.
Next, the Army General moved on to Santiago de Cuba’s military regional command, where he spoke with brigades composed of forestry experts.
There, command chief Colonel Ricardo Riger Tejeda, explained that brigades were created in every province after Hurricane Sandy hit the region. These units work to support prevention efforts and once the weather event is over, help with sanitation and recuperation around the city, he noted, also highlighting that brigades have the necessary equipment to carry out their tasks with speed and efficiency.
Later, the President of the Cuba’s Councils of State and Ministers visited a facility belonging to the Ministry of the Interior where he talked with members of the Search and Rescue Detail and Fire Brigade, which have been reinforced by other MININT personnel.
While speaking to staff, Raúl recalled the participation of said groups during Hurricane Sandy and highlighted the importance of their work in these types of emergency situations.
Shortly afterward, the President of the National Defense Council made his way to the Mariana Grajales Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital where he was warmly received by the population and Health sector directors; who updated the Cuban President on the work of staff at the facility, the state of equipment, as well as steps taken to continue providing the institution’s complete range of services and save lives, since initial actions were announced ahead of Hurricane Matthew.
The Cuban President highlighted the work of the Provincial Defense Council, led by compañero Lázaro Expósito Canto and the support offered by deputy minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, Army Corps General, Ramón Espinosa Martín.
After the hurricane has passed we will immediately begin work to recover from the damage Matthew may cause, stated Raúl.
All reports and photos from Granma International, with photos also from Estudio Revolución, Juvenal Balán, Jose M. Correa