By Guillermo Nova (dpa)
HAVANA TIMES — “The wind ripped off our zinc roof so fast that it looked like it was opening a can of food,” Rosa Martinez recounted to dpa, while looking up at the grey rainclouds in the sky still, standing in her living room.
What she lived was felt by thousands of Cubans over the last few days as Hurricane Irma pummeled a large portion of the island.
Rosa Martinez (not the Rosa Martinez that writes for Havana Times) was cautiously waiting for Hurricane Irma but she was also quite confident, because her house was the only one down her street made of concrete with a metal roof, the rest of them are made of wood, along a street near the Caibarien’s sea promenade, 200 miles east of Havana.
Hurricane Irma entered the fishing town with strong gale winds which were traveling at a speed of 150 mph. Over half of the city’s 40,000 residents were evacuated to shelters or other family member’s homes in safer areas.
The Municipal Defense Committee set up seven shelters which took in pregnant women, breastfeeding children and children younger than a year old, along with elderly people who needed special medical assistance.
In order to prevent accidents, electricity and phone services have been cut since Friday and heavy police checks have stopped anyone from entering Caibarien.
Once Irma came, the main access routes to the city were cut off due to large trees collapsing and blocking them. Cuban authorities had pruned these trees but the wind force was so great that it blew them out from the roots. In public parks, benches ended up on the ground in spite of screws that firmly fixed them into concrete.
Very quickly after, the sea came in about 500 meters and flooded everything in its path. Some fishing boats were run aground on the main street.
On Friday evening, the water level gradually went down, but you can still see algae remains on the streets as proof of where the sea reached because of the force of the tide, with waves between five and seven meters high.
“I can’t remember there ever being anything as strong here,” Reidiel Garcia pointed out to dpa. Garcia was born in 1985, the same year Hurricane Kate passed through Caibarien and destroyed a part of the fishing village.
Reidiel, who had managed to take out the fridge, the TV and every valuable object in the house before Irma came, now looks sadly at how an electrical post has fallen on his roof and is now taking up a part of his kitchen after breaking it.
While light posts and streetlights were flying about, the provincial museum’s roof also collapsed leaving behind an open sky.
Cuban authorities believe Caibarien to be one of the most affected areas by Hurricane Irma, which entered the island as a category 5 hurricane and then lost a little of its force when it passed over land. However, it passed through very slowly, at just 9 mph, thereby increasing its destruction potential.
When water levels began to fall, many families returned to their homes to see what condition they were in. “Today, we won’t sleep either, our roofs flew off and we only have the boards left,” said Fernando while he removes water through the front door of his home.
“Now, the only thing we can do is recover in the shortest time possible, we have roofing material, cement and other building materials stored away,” Juan Alberto Gonzalez, president of Caibarien’s Municipal Defense Committee, told dpa.
However, time and past experiences have proven that the reality is much harder than just going to a warehouse and getting the materials needed. Many families are still waiting to finish repairs on their homes damaged by hurricanes in previous years. The government’s ability to build new housing and/or put building materials on the market for those who have the finances to do their own repairs is way below demand. The result is a chronic housing shortage continually getting worse.