The Night Hurricane Sandy Hit

First-hand account from an HT contributing writer in Guantanamo.

Rosa Martinez

Damage from Hurricane Sandy in Santiago de Cuba.

HAVANA TIMES — I’m thinking that today I can finally get a good night’s sleep. Hurricane Sandy began plowing through Cuban soil last Thursday during the early morning hours, and since then there have been more than a few bad moments.

We had received a visitor at our house that same day. He’s one of those people who wander around the world with no concerns, without knowing or caring too much about anything.

My uncle Raul came from Granma Province to spend a few days with us not even knowing that the whole of eastern Cuba was under a hurricane alert. He was as out of it as ever.

He arrived in the middle of a downpour, disgusted with his bad luck, though he always comes to Guantanamo in the middle of a downpour. That’s why we call him “the man who comes with the rain”; so whenever a drought strikes we ask him to come visit us for a few days and to bring some rain with him.

This time “Raulin,” as we affectionately call him, brought a lot more than rain.

It was only around 7:00 pm when the showers began. Everybody in the neighborhood, the city, the province, the whole eastern region was waiting for what Sandy was going to do. Everyone was asking where its landfall would finally be, what category would it measure, and if the once rebel-ridden Turquino Mountains would end up weakening it.

From the morning and throughout the afternoon, those of us who had houses with roofs made of cement-fiber or corrugated zinc sheets tied them down and tried to secure all of our possessions, not only those in our homes but also those of government offices and businesses.

People who were living in possible flood zones were evacuated early, as were those living in sub-standard housing. In short, we were as ready as we could be to meet Mr. Sandy head on.

This unwanted guest arrived at midnight, as almost always happens with these incursions. I don’t know why hurricanes always choose to come to town so late at night. It almost seems like they’re trying to catch people off guard, but we weren’t. We were ready, awake and alert.

My family and I (nine people in all, including my two little girls who had been sleeping in the only room in the house with the concrete roof) assembled in my parent’s house, the home that would be safer for everybody – so we thought.

It got worse than we expected 

At midnight, or a little before, the rain intensified and strong winds began. At first we were calm, but things started getting louder.

The phone started ringing. Several relatives and friends called up, all of them scared. “Rosa, what the hell is this thing?” asked one of my relatives from Santiago.

“Is this a Category 3 or what?” asked a friend from the center of Guantanamo city, which was the last voice I was able to here on the phone since the service went out quickly after. The electric service was then also cut.

We remained there silent in the middle of the dark and with the dauntless locomotive sound of the cyclone, which seemed determined to take our house with it.

“The roof’s not gonna hold,” yelled my brother. Looking at him defiantly and annoyed, I said: “Don’t be prophet of doom. It has to hold up!” I replied, without looking at him. But deep inside me I asked all the saints — those known as well as those unknown — to protect us, begging them not to allow the roof to “fly off like Matia Perez.”

Though I prayed and prayed, actually we all prayed, we couldn’t have been the only ones. But ultimately our prayers weren’t heard, or rather neither God nor anyone else could do anything against that fury, and half of the roof of my mother’s house vanished into the sky.

The tin sheets were blown far away, so we’ll never find them, while the cement-fiber shingles fell nearby, but in a thousand pieces.

In this same situation were several neighbors, but who — refusing to heed advice — went out looking for lost roofing pieces at the risk of being hit by some flying object or one of the many trees that fell and caused even worse damage. Fortunately none of that happened, but it could have easily occurred.

At home we didn’t fall into despair. The roof was lost and there was nothing we could do about that, nevertheless there remained objects that we might be able to save, so that’s what we did.

We organized and moved the most valuable things from the front room and the first and second bedrooms into the kitchen and one bedroom, the only sections of the house with concrete roofs.

This is where we put the two TV sets, the old and beloved cupboard that used to belong to my parents, and other important things that we were able to prevent from getting rain soaked or blowing away like the other half of the roof.

We had no choice but to try and make ourselves comfortable in that corner of the kitchen since nothing else could fit in the one bedroom. We waited anxiously sitting in the chairs and on benches. I situated myself on one of the benches and we all prayed for it to soon be over and not continue taking apart the little house that my family had worked so hard to build.

The fury continued for too long. I think I must have asked what time it was every ten minutes. I couldn’t believe that it would last so long, but it went on and on, lasting for at least five hours. It was five hours of screaming, wailing and worrying about family members and friends, both in Guantanamo and our beloved Santiago de Cuba.

Today I’m going to go to bed and maybe I’ll be able to sleep. The cleanup work has now ended and we’re adapting ourselves to the tasks ahead the best we can. Half of the house is still without a roof, but the other half is secure and doesn’t get wet.

Although I don’t hear any wind or rumbling that could frighten me, another concern has come to my mind. I’m thinking of the almost a dozen people in Santiago who died and the thousands whose homes were completely destroyed, and within them all of their keepsakes and mementos.

Right now there must be some people who don’t even have places to rest their feet or their heads – although I know that our government doesn’t leave anyone helpless and to their own fate.

I feel embarrassed for being so sleepy. I’m trying to stay awake, but the fatigue is stronger than the pain. Finally I’ll fall asleep among the fright, the crying and the pain of those who are feeling these things as much or even more than I am. But mostly I’ll doze off thinking of Santiago, the city of my dreams.

One thought on “The Night Hurricane Sandy Hit

  • Hello Rosa,

    Thank-you for relating your story of ‘Ms Sandy’ It was a ‘she’, not a ‘he’ as hurricane names now alternate between genders. Sandy’s a name that can be either male or female in English but it was preceded by ‘Rafael’ and if there is another named storm this year, it will be followed by ‘Tony’.

    I’ve been through a number of tropical storms – hurricanes and cyclones – in various parts of the world and it is always a nerve-wracking experience – and that’s if you are lucky! For every one that hits you, there are also all those near misses plus the potential ones that you track day in and day out, watching to see where they will go.

    The remnants of Sandy passed through Toronto a couple of days ago as a gale, downing big old trees in the city, with some flooding and power outages, but only one death, a thirty-year-old woman. One death even, is one too many.

    I’ve never made it as far east as Santiago but I have Canadian friends who have spent time there, as recently as June. They were concerned about the people who they got to know.

    Friends of mine more in the west wrote about the winds and rain they experienced, but afterwards the cooler weather was welcome. It has been an unusually warm October they tell me.

    Hopefully Ms Sandy is the last storm for this season. Weather events like this, it would seem, should unite us all as a people. Sandy caused people to die in several countries, from Jamaica to Canada. We all shared an experience that threatened our lives. Why, one asks, does it not bring us together? One especially asks this of the country that lies between our two countries. Will they ever learn

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