HAVANA TIMES – I tried to secure a window and I saw a strange light. I immediately wanted to know how my brother was so I called his house, but nobody answered. I called his cellphone, he didn’t have any signal. I was overcome by anxiety: the blackout, the howling wind, the announcement of a possible storm, everything I needed to insist on making that call.
In the end, Daniela (my brother’s stepdaughter) answered: it’s like a tsunami out here, my grandmother is bleeding, the wind has taken our windows, the balcony door, it’s too much; my house is in ruins. We’re in the bathroom. And she hung up.
Daniela had never seen a tsunami in her life, but when she heard the great whirring, as if many different aeroplanes were taking off all at once, she grabbed her dog Dori and went to the bedroom where the rest of the family was. There, backed up into a corner, she shakingly asked Madelin (her mother and my brother’s wife): “But, what is this? This strange noise and this wind, this is something really terrible.” And she hugged her dog with all her might.
Her mother tried to calm her down and quickly tried to put a board up in front of the shutters, because every time it rains, the bed gets wet. Alfre, my brother, went out to the living room to close the balcony.
And that’s how a nightmare began, which they still can’t remember in all its detail even today.
The wind pushed Madelin backwards and she fell down, sitting against the bedroom wall. The house’s four windows had come loose and flown away. In the living room, my brother was struggling with the balcony door until he saw that it was also coming loose, so he let go of it. Turning around, he tripped over the bedroom TV, broken, and with Ramona (his mother-in-law) strewn out on the floor groaning. He picked her up as best he could. They quickly locked themselves in the bathroom; it was the only safe place.
Hysteria spiralled: bits of glass shattered, neighbors were shouting, the blunt sound of tiles, beams and tanks falling down, people sobbing.
It might have only lasted a minute, but it felt like all eternity to me, Madelin says now.
In the middle of that disaster, they heard a knocking at the door: open up, I don’t have any doors, I’m going to bring my parents. It was the neighbor from upstairs, but they couldn’t get out of the bathroom. Ramona had one foot bleeding, you could touch her shinbone and everyone was in shock. The wind was too strong. We’re the same, they shouted, go in your bathroom.
When the strong winds had died down and they got signal back, they called for an ambulance. They were number 252, so they knew how many people had been affected. The impassable streets prevented any ambulance from reaching them, so a patrol car took them. From the polyclinic to the Calixto Garcia hospital, and then straight to the operating room. The situation in the hospital was bewildering, my brother tells me: the people, the blood, the cries, the desperation.
The next day when dawn broke, I headed to Regla. Via Blanca closed, the refinery and cement manufacturer’s walls had suffered great damage, the traffic signal in Guanabacoa was no longer standing, neither was the fast food Ditu. It was impossible to get there by car.
You had to go around taking the Santa Fe bridge. It looked like nothing had happened in some parts of Guanabacoa; while everything was destroyed in Regla.
The apartment was destroyed, Madelin was full of bruises, Ramona was in hospital and Daniela was trying to organize things. My brother, who had left at night, with the blackout, trying to support his mother-in-law’s foot, began to cry when he returned the following morning and saw the landscape. It was a combination of stress, sadness, helplessness and nerves; he was crying because he had lost so much and because he also realized that a miracle had saved them.
Up until now, the material losses they’ve suffered are: four windows, a double door, a mattress, three pillows, two sheets and a blanket, two fans, a TV, a laptop, the tower of another PC, a wallet, some important papers and a carton of eggs. But we’re alive, Daniela says when she sees everyone sad.
Many people lost their lives; others their home, their possessions, their hope. Dori was lucky because Daniela had protected her, but another dog in the building and two Stamfords who lived on a nearby roof terrace ended up God knows where, maybe to meet Toto in the Land of Oz.
The panorama is heartbreaking: broken windows, fridges embedded on the sidewalk, collapsed walls, broken cars, homes without a roof; the collapse.
But, there is another hurricane of solidarity on social media both in and outside of Cuba I tell my brother, and he smiles. People need to know that they aren’t alone, that their misfortune is everyone’s misfortune, that’s the only way to pick up their spirits.