Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — Hurricane Irma is already history and many stories could be written about destruction and devastation, as it was the greatest hydrometeorological hazard that had ever formed in the Atlantic ocean and it affected Cuba from the east to the west, ravaging some provinces more than others, but all of them were affected by it in some form or another.
From the municipalities in the north of Guantanamo to northern Artemisa, this monster’s destructive hand, which went by a woman’s name, touched each and every one of them. And even though the eye of the hurricane only reached the eastern part of Matanzas, the strong tropical storm winds were felt in Havana, where sea surges caused great damage, as the sea came approximately 0.5 km inland and water levels reached almost two meters high in some places, which meant that many people living in this area lost most of their belongings.
Cuban Civil Defense authorities have been recognized as one of the best-organized units in the world and ever since the hurricane started heading west-northwest and it became clear that there was a chance it could hit Cuba, measures to prevent the greatest possible losses were put into action and, more than anything else, measures to save lives were implemented, which is the most precious thing we have.
Two million people were evacuated to safer places, a large part of them to homes of relatives or friends and the rest of them were moved to evacuation centers, where food and medical assistance was given to them. However, there was always someone who refused to evacuate and who committed careless acts which cost them their lives, and therefore we have to lament the deaths of 10 persons.
Huge trees were ripped out from their roots, some of which fell on top of houses or power lines. It’s a landscape which has been repeated constantly, from Havana to municipalities to the north of Holguin, where the lack of electricity has been an inconvenience which has affected millions.
However, the Cuban people’s characteristic solidarity came swiftly and was manifested in different ways, from preparing food for families and neighbors on some improvised bonfires on the street, using wood from the destruction as fuel, to putting up neighbors who live in more humble abodes in the nicest houses on the block.
Another display of solidarity has been the attitude the electric company’s workers have had, who began repair work on damaged lines as soon as the strong winds and rains let up, working non-stop, with their minds and hearts set on one objective alone: to give the Cuban people the much-needed electricity service they need, and in 72 hours, 75% of the population has electricity.
Brigades of electricity workers left the least affected provinces to help reestablish electricity services in the most damaged provinces, to work however hours necessary to put things back to the way they were as quickly as possible.
Several thermoelectric plants suffered damage, but the most affected, which will take several days to generate electricity again, was the Antonio Guiteras electric plant in Matanzas, the largest and most efficient in the country. However, this hasn’t been the only obstacle to get the National Electricity System connected up again and to provide services to every place where lines have been recovered and repaired, thanks to diesel-operated generators at electricity plants. Some areas, which have been greatly destroyed, will take some days to get their electricity services back, but workers’ efforts within the sector are huge and the Cuban people recognize this.
Over 14,000 foreign tourists were evacuated from high-risk areas before the hurricane swept through the country and none of them were hurt. Many hotels in the northern cays were much damaged, but according to the Tourism minister’s statements, they will all be ready before the peak holiday season begins to receive visitors who arrive this winter.
Hurricane Irma has left a lot of destruction behind, which will cost the national economy billions of dollars, but the Cuban people’s resistance and working spirit will prevail once again and this post-hurricane landscape will change very soon.