HAVANA TIMES — As I said in my previous post, three days after Hurricane Sandy hit Santiago de Cuba I traveled to that nearby city to see for myself the devastation I had heard about, as well as to offer support to my relatives and friends who live there.
That day I left home early headed for our Guantanamo provincial bus terminal, though I had to take a look around my own city before leaving.
Hundreds of homes were seriously damaged in my province, mainly in the municipalities of El Salvador and Niceto Perez, where two people even had to be rescued by helicopter when their lives were endangered. The provincial capital itself, however, didn’t suffer that much damage.
Three days after the storm in Guantanamo, there still remained many trees lying in the streets, lots of houses without parts of their roofs — a few without any roofs at all — and plenty of garbage strewn everywhere. Though still of course regrettable, there had “only” been two deaths. Most importantly, those citizens whose homes suffered damage were safe and sound, staying in the homes of friends and neighbors.
But what happened at Guantanamo was penny-ante compared to what occurred in the city of Santiago.
The villages of Songo and La Maya, on the road to Santiago, provided me a prelude to what I would see later.
Even before reaching La Maya there were damaged homes and downed trees on the side of the road, but it was not until getting to that town itself that I witnessed the first really shocking image: the feed mill had been ravaged. It was like someone had crumbled up a piece of paper, and there must have been many tons of feed lost.
Along the entire route I saw houses damaged or totally destroyed. From the bus I managed to see places that I previously couldn’t – the trees that had once prevented a clear view had been uprooted.
El Christo, a town located a few miles from Santiago, it was no different; roofing was scattered everywhere, trash was all around, walls were on the ground and people were wandering around with despondent faces.
No town between Santiago and Guantanamo was spared the ravages of Sandy. All of them were affected to one extent or another. What’s clear is that it will take a great deal of effort to rebuild each of those homes, schools, mini-factories, trees, state institutions, greenhouses, etc., that were damaged on October 25.
I finally reached Santiago but had to look closely to make sure I was in the right place. The entrance to the city made you wonder if you were actually in Santiago or if the driver had made a wrong turn and had driven to some other unfamiliar place.
The enormous statue of Cuban independence hero Antonio Maceo welcomes everyone who comes to the second capital of the country, but this time I think the “Bronze Titan” was weeping; indeed, there must have been many Santiagoans who have shed more than a tear after seeing the sad shape of their city.
We were able to drive around and look at everything – public places, cultural institutions, museums, parks, schools, hospitals and clinics, warehouses and shops, bus stops and terminals, factories and industries, apartments and houses. What struck me most about what I saw was the degree of devastation, but I would need more than one post to describe that.
What I can say is that while I had seen many images on television and in newspapers before coming here, I can assure you nothing that you’ve seen on the Internet or on TV comes close to comparing with reality. What was before my eyes exceeded all my deepest fears. The destruction was total, there was not a house or building that escaped the fury of the tempest.
The Santiagoans — typically proud, fast to joke and hospitable — didn’t show so much of their old selves, though it’s true that wherever you went there were people working, picking up debris, and organizing the recovery efforts of state institutions, workplaces, apartment buildings and their own homes.
Workers with the Electric Company and ETECSA [the telephone company] from across the country were deployed like an army all over the city, determined to restore electricity and telephone communications services here and throughout the eastern part of the country (though 12 days later, power still hasn’t been restored in all the affected areas since there were so many downed poles and wires).
Undoubtedly it will take a tremendous amount of resources, money, effort and time to rebuild all of this. It’s no wonder that Lazaro Exposito, the first secretary of the Communist Party in the province, actually wept when he made his first tour of the city on the morning after Sandy hit.
True, Santiago was beaten down to the point of death, but as strong as it is — though suffering this onslaught, falling apart in places, bleeding in others — it’s still alive. Santiago lives and will lift itself back up! That, dear readers, is something I’m completely sure of.