By Victor Manuel
HAVANA TIMES — I recently had the privilege of visiting Cardenas, a few weeks after Hurricane Irma swept through to the north of this city in the Matanzas province. I walked down some of its streets and talked to locals… I even visited some relatives; I could say I went back to the city where I spent all of my teenage years.
“Flag city”, as it is known, because it was in 1850 when the national flag was first planted on Cuban ground, was battered by Hurricane Irma for more than 24 hours when it swept through the north of the country, with winds above 250 km/h, a local radio journalist told me.
The city suffered considerable flooding, especially in the city’s oldest part, because of its geographical location and the city’s layout, because it is near the sea and especially because it is situated on marshlands, linked to the serious problem that the sewage system has. You can still find sea water amid waste water on many of Cardenas’ streets.
Today, Cardenas has been completely repaired, at least its main areas, anyone coming for the first time after Hurricane Irma would say the opposite because of the poor state of building fronts and pollution on the streets, but the truth is that these features weren’t caused by Irma, they date way back.
In spite of the fact that the vast majority of residents make up the main workforce at the Varadero’s tourist resort, which is apparent in the relatively high quality of life in this city and contrasts with the depressing state of city buildings.
Many people simply “don’t touch the facade” and build inside. After Irma, you can see partial damages to older structures. Such is the case with professor Ricardo Martinez’s home, located on Real Street and which dates back to 1892. On the second floor with wooden floors, it was almost completely damaged and the authorities’ response has been nil, claiming that the property is a local heritage site.
The same thing has happened with the city’s old Government Palace, today the “La Dominica” Hotel where the national flag was first planted on May 19, 1850 and is in danger of collapsing, even before “poor” building attempts were being made before Irma came.
On my tour of the city, I could see the serious damage caused by Hurricane Irma to its schools’ infrastructure. Mainly, primary and secondary schools. According to an anonymous source from a primary school, at least two schools had their roofs and windows and doors seriously damaged. The hurricane came to make the task of repairing one of these schools even harder, forcing its students to move to other schools. In the case of the Jose Joaquin Valdez Piar Polytechnic, it received serious damage to its structure caused by trees falling onto it.
In spite of all of this, many people are happy because this city got its electricity back way before Varadero even did, but unfortunately, you can still see the hurricane’s harm, mainly in parks, such as in Colon Park where there is still a part of a tree that was ripped out from the root.
The current situation with building materials is also much commented. The government put out the order to stop all sales except to those affected by the hurricane. Many people consider the decision unfair as they were already in the middle of building works and are now being affected by this measure.
The truth is that there is still a long way to go until Cardenas reveals the beauty that used to define it. The city was already in pretty bad shape long before Irma, now Cuban authorities just need to focus on recovering it.
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