Beautiful Santiago de Cuba after Sandy

Rosa Martinez

Santiago de Cuba after Sandy. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — All Cubans have seen the images published in the Cuban media of the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in the east, especially in the city of Santiago, the second largest city in the country and the most Caribbean of all.

Virtually everyone has been moved by the destruction left behind by the mega-storm that hit the island on October 25 and may end up totaling more than $2 billion dollars in losses, including the damage to more than 130,000 homes –in Santiago de Cuba alone where some 15,000 units were completely destroyed.

At 6:00 a.m. on the very same morning of the disaster, I tried to communicate with friends and family members who live in that sister province. It was difficult and expensive on a cellphone, but we managed to make contact and were able to find out about those loved ones who were most affected.

“Several dead” was the first major piece of bad news; “including one newborn,” the second worst; and finally came the equally striking information: “Santiago is destroyed.”

“What do they mean by that? How could it have been destroyed? “I asked, fearing the worst. “It looks more like this place was hit by World War III than by a hurricane,” I was told on the other end of the line, which was also a cellphone.

I momentarily stood there speechless. Since the cellphone I was using hardly had a balance on the card, we decided to try to get back in touch later through some other means.


That’s where we left it, at least until my cousin Albertico called two hours later from a landline phone. That was when I found out in detail what was left of the city of my dreams.

It was during this second contact that we were first told about the damage suffered by family members and friends, which people’s home’s had been affected, if anyone among the dead was known to us, and other details about loved ones in both provinces.

Fortunately our whole family was safe. There were no injuries or deaths. The only incident among a family member had involved another cousin who lives in San Pedrito; he lost his home, but he was taken in and received all the assistance possible. Among my friends, two were left without homes and another one lost some of the walls of her house.

After those details came the news about the city as a whole. “Ok, now tell me, what was the major damage?” I asked my cousin.

“I don’t know where to start,” he said. “Rosa, Santiago is going to have to rebuild from scratch. Just to give you a simple idea: There wasn’t a single tree — not one — still standing. They are either on the ground or crashed onto buildings and houses, and all the poles and wires are on the ground.”

“On top of that, let me tell you what I remember most from the rounds I made this morning,” he continued.

“Of the two Coopelias [outdoor ice cream parlors], nothing’s left; the two bus terminals are gone, it blew off the whole top of the Heredia Theater, it damanged the Guillermon Moncada stadium and the newer Hotel Santiago, the 18 floors of the Garzon Building are completely without windows, and it caused major damage to several supermarkets, the University of Oriente and the rum factory.”


And that was just mentioning what he could remember seeing or what he had heard from others. It was just horrible.

I couldn’t believe it. In Santiago there was nothing standing. The city had been completely destroyed. There were no factories, schools, hospitals, grocery stores, money exchange centers, museums, cultural centers, sports facilities or anything else that didn’t suffer damage.

After hearing Alberto’s words, I simply froze, not knowing what to say or do. My first impulse was to leave and head over there. Even though I couldn’t do anything, even though my financial situation wouldn’t allow me to contribute much, I still wanted to be there for my family and friends, for the city.

I didn’t go there that day. I too had suffered from the storm. I needed to work on repairing the house of my parents, who are old and couldn’t do it alone. My own house hadn’t escaped the hurricane either, and it too needed urgent repairs. But it was only a matter of hours before I went. In less than 36 hours I was in Santiago, to see with my own eyes what Sandy’s fury had left, or — better said — what it had not left.


10 thoughts on “Beautiful Santiago de Cuba after Sandy

  • RE: “Hurricane Fidel”.

    That’s actually an apt term to use. People who are aware of what tropical storm systems represent in nature know they are forces for renewal, similar to forest fires on land. Both clear away old growth, creating space for new life.

    Animals and humans have to learn how best to survive during these periods of renewal and take them in their stride. I first learned this in the South Pacific where cyclones flood low-lying atolls and storm-force winds flatten anything built by man. Natives tie themselves to coconut trees – incredibly stronger than trees that grow in Canada – for survival.

    It’s best to learn how to live with nature and not to try to defy its power. Perhaps this is why Cuba made out better with Hurricane Sandy than the Americans did. Socialist governments are based on rational principles, capitalist ones are based on profit for the few. Scientists are saying Americans should stop building on barrier islands, especially as climate change starts to kick in big time.

    RE: “destructive socialist policies”.

    Economic systems are always better when they are flexible and reality-based, as opposed to being driven by ideologues. The destructiveness of a ‘small government”, ‘less spending’, ‘no taxes for the wealthy’ mantra in times of high unemployment and an economic downturn seems to have penetrated the consciousness of even Americans, who are heavily propagandized by elite interests. Maybe.

    The Cuban government, under Raul, is exhibiting more flexibility than the US, under a ‘reality’ imposed by the US – having to deal with an outrageous 50-plus year economic blockade that clearly is intended to cause “crumbling infrastructure”, “collapsing buildings”, and “unproductive” farm programs.

    Until that unnatural reality is ended, we won’t know what the actual reality under socialism will be like. Based on the flexibility we are currently seeing, however, it is likely the government will be able to adapt to a world when free of its oppressor, at last.

    RE: “politically deluded Canadian tourists”, “spouting slogans in support of the Castro dictatorship.”

    No one who visits Cuba, whether they remain in the tourist enclaves or travel outside, are likely to remain deluded for long, politically or otherwise. I’m always amazed at the ability of some, not all, Americans to maintain themselves in an encapsulated, deluded state, however.

    I have not personally encountered any Canadian, American or anyone else who comes back from Cuba spouting government slogans – from either the Cuban or the American government. More common is a lack of verbiage, signaling thoughtfulness. After experiencing Cuba, it makes everyone think – except ideologues, of course.

    Whether you were favourable to the government, opposed to it, or neutral – just looking for fun and sun – before going, the Cuban experience will leave you better informed – independent of propagandists like yourself that have an ideology to sell – and more likely to question the assumptions you had before going. The experience tends to shake preconceived notions, whether they were pro- or anti-government.

    There is a hardcore Cuban-American element that is an exception, not able to get over their bitterness and accept the country they are now citizens of, still mourning the privileged existence they were forced to give up. They are the ones who vandalize facilities when they visit. Guidebooks write about them. ‘Moses’, if we take him at his word, a ‘gusano’ by marriage, falls into this category – hopefully a non-vandal.

    RE: “pet foreigners” and tolerating “boring sloganeering just to receive the gifts you bring them”.

    I’ve written before about the nature of tourism as something tolerated by locals for the money, a universal observation, not just in Cuba. Locals in Cuba commonly ask you if you are Canadian – a fair assumption as most tourists are – and give you a big greeting if you say yes, even when they are not trying to sell you anything.

    Many times I’m sure it is a show of gratitude for not being a party to the US blockade. Sometimes I think it may be a sign of relief that you are not American, a citizen from the country that has made Cuba its enemy.

    I certainly would never spout slogans to a Cuban, whether pro- or anti-government as it would be a sure-fire conversation stopper. Talking politics with strangers is always risky, even in my country. It shows you have never spent much time talking to ordinary Cubans.

  • This is a proof that God doesn’t exist. Because if there was a God, certainly a report about the passage of a hurricane in Santiago de Cuba wouldn’t turn into a stupid propaganda war.

  • Indeed! The Cuban people have indeed suffered long and hard from the devastation wrought by Hurricane Fidel. The crumbling infrastructure, the collapsing buildings, the unproductive farms all are a consequence of the destructive socialist policies forced on the Cuban people by the Castro dictatorship.

    The Cuban people don’t actually appreciate the politically deluded Canadian tourists, such as yourself, who live in wealth up north and visit the “socialist paradise” spouting slogans in support of the Castro dictatorship.

    Cuban’s have an expression for people like you: “pet foreigner”. They find it necessary to suffer your boring sloganeering just to receive the gifts you bring them. Yet one more indignity that 50 years of Hurricane Fidel has inflicted on the Cuban people.

  • Then keep to the subject and leave out the ” long suffering” qualifier, unless you want to point out it’s largely due to the 50 plus year economic blockade. That’s certainly long. Somehow I don’t think you want to do that so I will provide a perspective on the suffering others have to endure.

    If I was a Cuban, sympathy from a supporter of the blockade like you would be repugnant. I guess one doesn’t have to be Cuban to feel that way.

  • RE: “damage done by Sandy to Lower Manhattan? Are you kidding? Okay, the streets are a mess ”

    I didn’t write about damage to property in Lower Manhattan. I wrote about the “long suffering people of Lower Manhattan.” Your focus on seeing property as more important than people is typical of your outlook, and your economic system.

    RE: “power has been restored and the stock markets reopened yesterday. All will be back to near-normal within a week”.

    As long as the stock market is open, all is back to normal, again typical of your outlook. But power has not been restored to all of New York and surrounding areas. Yesterday, Democracy Now reported that “While power has been restored in most of Manhattan, many of the hardest-hit areas of the city remain in the dark, including Staten Island, Rockaways and Red Hook. In New Jersey, more than a million people are without power.”

    “On Sunday, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said 40,000 displaced residents of the city are now in need of shelter.” With temperatures dropping into the thirties (-1 C to +4 C) at night, concern is growing for the people still without power.”

    RE: “Long Island will suffer a little longer…”.

    If you saw what Staten Island and Far Rockaway on Long Island looked like you wouldn’t have written that. Democracy Now is based in Lower Manhattan. They have had people on the streets continuously since Sandy struck. This will obviously be another Katrina-length recovery operation.

    RE: “but we are talking about homes covered by home insurance policies”.

    Just like in Katrina where most did not have insurance and ones that did couldn’t claim due to the ‘small print’. The common clause in insurance policies is to exempt coverage for ‘water damage’ and ‘acts of God’.

    RE: “a system well-able and willing to sell roofing material and building supplies as needed.

    For those who can afford them, of course, true for less and less in your country in the current economic situation.

    RE: “plumbers, contractors, electricians and others” engaging “in price-gouging”.

    A standard American practice. It’s called “free enterprise”.

    RE: Santiago de Cuba being short of building supplies.

    Largely due to the 50 plus year economic blockade of Cuba. I assume the US will relax its blockade for humanitarian reasons. Sure. Just as it willl come to the aid of the needy in your country. Sure.

    RE: “sugar, coffee, pork and potato supplies are low and non-existent in Santiago.

    Venezuela is sending relief aid. Surely the US will too. Sure.

    RE: “no one has the money to buy these staples”.

    Staples are subsidized in Cuba, unlike in your country, except for food stamps, which folks use to buy junk food with.

    RE: me “want[ing] to equate the disaster in the US to what has taken place in Cuba”.

    ‘Griffin’ wrote about the “poor long suffering people of Santiago,” obviously referring to more than natural disasters. Both he and you go out of your way to find excuses to remind Cubans about how difficult their lives are, studiously ignoring, or denying, of course that your country is responsible for much of it, not all, but much.

    Whenever you do, I offer an outside perspective – what it’s really like in your country – not what you would have them believe it is like, so they will have a perspective on their situation.

    RE: “invent[ing] some way to claim it is worse in the US”.

    Invention is not necessary. Reality works just fine.

    RE: having “in-laws in Guantanamo” and there being “no comparison”.

    To do a valid comparison you have to talk to folks in the hard-hit areas of your country that are having the most problems with Sandy’s destruction. In your country, unlike Cuba, this means talking to the poor and not the well-off who are mostly immune to what Sandy wrought.

  • Damage done by Sandy to Lower Manhattan? Are you kidding? Okay, the streets are a mess, but power has been restored and the stock markets reopened yesterday. All will be back to near-normal within a week. Long Island will suffer a little longer but we are talking about homes covered by home insurance policies and a system well-able and willing to sell roofing material and building supplies as needed. In fact, the real problem is that the plumbers, contractors, electricians and others who will most benefit from the disaster must be careful not to be permitted to engage in price-gouging. It is a bad situation but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Santiago de Cuba on the other hand is nearly wiped out with little immediate hope for recovery. Where are the building supplies to rebuild nearly 200,000 homes going to come from? When will they arrive? Once available, who has the money to pay for them? Yes, today, gasoline is in short supply on Long Island. What is your bet that the oil companies are working around the clock to get gas to the affected areas? In Cuba, eggs, sugar, coffee, pork and potato supplies are low and non-existent in Santiago. Worse, no one has the money to buy these staples even if they were available. As is your usual, you want to equate the disaster in the US to what has taken place in Cuba. In fact, you will likely invent some way to claim it is worse in the US. Lawrence, I have in-laws in Guantanamo. Believe me, there is no comparison. Santiago is really bad.

  • Good point, Lawrence. A lot of terrible damage & suffering in New Jersey & New York, too.

    (But as this is a Cuba blog, I try to keep the topic to that subject.)

  • I am a Canadian and just returned from Cuba where I vacationed for 10 days. I was in Havana and we had rain and wind and nothing else. I am sick for Santiago and for Cuba as a whole. I have been going to Cuba for over 25 years and it is like my second home. I cannot believe the damage. But it seems that the scientists are right about the environment change and unfortunately these storms could be the financial ruin of the world! Again, my heart aches for all those affected both in Cuba and the US.

  • While you’re at it, don’t forget prayers for the poor long suffering people of Lower Manhattan and Statan Island. This latest hurricane is another terrible blow for them as well.

  • What a heart-breaking report. The poor long suffering people of Santiago have endured so much. This latest hurricane is another terrible blow. My prayers go out to them.

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