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

  • November 6, 2012 at 9:15 am

    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.

  • November 6, 2012 at 7:09 am

    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.

  • November 6, 2012 at 6:55 am

    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.

  • November 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    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.

  • November 5, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    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.)

  • November 5, 2012 at 9:28 am

    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.

  • November 4, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    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.

  • November 3, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    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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