First Hand Account from Cuba in Preparation for Hurricane Matthew

Osmel Ramirez Alvarez

Tree pruning in Santiago de Cuba. Photo:
Tree pruning in Santiago de Cuba. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Hopes that Hurricane Matthew would carry on its path without crossing our country are quickly disappearing. We watch every weather forecast hoping that weather conditions change and that it won’t finally turn upward towards the North, heading for Cuba´s eastern provinces, like all the projection cones indicate without mercy.

Here in Holguin, precautionary measures are already being taken. Civil defense troops are on the ready, with command posts set up everywhere. Everybody is safely putting away their belongings and a lot of people are taking off the roofs of their homes and tobacco curing huts so as to protect roof tiles from the imminent winds. At our local basic food stores, lines are enormous, everybody is buying up their food rations to have them at home, otherwise places that are hit and damaged will take a long time to restock them.

Salted cracker packets have all been sold out since Friday, I myself didn’t get there in time. My house is sturdy, but a lot of my neighbors are afraid. The hurricane Sandy experience (2012) is still fresh in our memory and some of the damage caused still remains. Before that hurricane, nothing that came by the south frightened us in Holguin because we trusted that the mountains in the south-east would weaken its impact. However, Sandy was unusual and the winds caused a lot of damage. Now, this hurricane is expected to take a similar route and we´re afraid that the same thing will happen again.

On Saturday morning, the president of the People’s Council came by my house so that I could help her draw up a document; and because people are taking preventive action, many of them came to look for her here to talk to her about these measures.

“It seems that Matthew is going to hit us real soon, this time I see people are more worried than they were with Sandy,” I tell her. The Delegate answered: “we’ve always been prepared, ready to evacuate if need be or for any emergency; however, George and Paloma passed us by and there was hardly any damage; after hurricane Ivan, we had to prune nearly all of our country´s trees and spend a lot a week beforehand, and this hurricane is threatening to do the same. However, the former storms passed us by and we ended up doing a lot of damage ourselves and spending a lot of money with preventive measures and we didn’t even have so much as a downpour.”

Guantanamo civil defense authorities drawing up plans. Photo:
Guantanamo civil defense authorities drawing up plans. Photo:

“Yes, I remember Yasser Arafat saying that Ivan had got afraid of Fidel,” I reminded her, but she didn´t comment on this because she was absorbed in her monologue and continued: “that’s why when Sandy came, without a lot of apparent strength and supposedly meant to pass through the Sierra Maestra, we thought it wouldn’t be anything. We didn’t evacuate anyone and we were only at the command posts as a formality, talking and laughing. When we saw that the hurricane was heading towards us, we almost had a heart attack; and it was worse when day broke and we saw the neighborhood abandoned, as if bombs had fallen. No hurricane will ever take us by surprise again.”

“And now what’s being done, are you preparing for the worst?” I asked. “Well, the truth of the matter is that if what’s being forecast takes place, the worst will happen. However, we have everything ready to go in any case and as soon as they give us the order, we’ll evacuate everybody at risk. Almost everyone will be transferred to houses here, which are made of cement and will resist the gale force. Water is being pumped the entire time so that people can store it and people are also authorized to prune trees, however, not excessively.”

When we had this conversation, in the morning, we were in the Civil Defense Watch Stage; on Saturday at 4 PM, we entered the Hurricane Alert Phase, which is intermediate. When the hurricane is about to hit, it will be the Hurricane Alarm Phase. I myself will begin to strip my tobacco curing house and then I’ll reinforce the roof with crossed over ropes. This morning, I picked all the avocados from the trees, because if the wind shakes them down, they’ll fall and get beaten and then they won’t be good for anything.

With little wood available in Cuba many residents put tape on windows to keep the glass from shattering. Photo:
With little wood available in Cuba many residents put tape on windows to keep the glass from shattering. Photo:

Everybody is afraid, getting firewood and oil so they can cook when the electricity is cut; getting matches and candles and washing all of their clothes. The weather looks good yet, you can’t see a lot of clouds, but everything can change at the drop of a hat.

If authoritarianism is good for anything, it’s in times of emergency, because the State is prepared and owns everything. They give the order and vehicles and resources are sent out, for the Civil Defense troops to use. According to what I’ve heard, building materials are no longer being sold, anticipating that they will be necessary to fix more pressing potential damages.

Even if Matthew doesn’t hit the eastern provinces, it will surely hit another province in the Center or West, because it would be truly a strike of luck if Cuba were to escape its path. In any case, the impact will be felt over a large area and it will bring a lot of rain. We have to be prepared.

2 thoughts on “First Hand Account from Cuba in Preparation for Hurricane Matthew

  • Check this site for update. So far it is not hitting, around Wednesday night Thursday early morning, the center of hurricane is about 260km away from Cayo Coco/Cayo Romano area offshore. Cayos will be expecting tropical storm with heavy rainfall possibility, and hurricane warning.

  • Is it due to hit the Cayos (Hurricane Matthew)?

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