The Day After Irma Hit Havana

By Guillermo Nova (dpa)

Photos: Elio Delgado Valdés

HAVANA TIMES – “The water came up to here,” says a woman raising her hand above her head, where the water mark still remains as a witness to the flood. Caridad lives just three blocks from the Malecón and had to climb to a second floor so as not to be dragged by the force of the water.

Now that the tide has passed, with a broom she pushes out to the street a mixture of mud that has left impregnated all the tiles of the first floor of her house. She still wears fear on her face. “You have to live it, it was very shocking.”

The water penetrated up to 500 meters from the Malecon promenade into the city, where more than 10,000 people had to be evacuated from their homes.

According to preliminary data from the Civil Defense, at least 10 people died in four provinces of Cuba as a result of the “Irma” crossing, which landed on the island on Friday night.

Seven of the victims died in Havana and the rest in Matanzas, Camagüey and Ciego de Ávila.

Hurricane “Irma” continues its course for the United States and now in the neighborhoods near the malecon promenade, little by little people begin to return to their homes.

Some draw water from inside their dwellings, aided by buckets and clean the sewage culverts for water to circulate, while others line up to buy bread and crackers in the absence of gas in homes that prevents them from cooking.

The image of sadness for what was lost contrasted with some young people swimming or paddling on planks, doing “selfies” with the flood as a background landscape or people who dared to approach the first line of the promenade to feel the shock of the waves.

Most of Havana’s sidewalks are occupied by fallen trees, some even uprooted from the root, and branches that prevent passage. Pedestrians have to walk on one side of the street and police order traffic because traffic lights don’t work.

The major problem now facing people is the restoration of basic services such as electricity, gas and potable water. The force of the sea mixed the clean water with the salt and the sewage.

“Without drinking water, what are we going to drink? What we need if for them to bring in  tankers,” women shouted in a street near the imposing Meliá Cohiba and Riviera hotels.

Many stores remain closed while they recover the raw material that could be salvaged and most gas stations do not sell fuel because it is rationed to prioritize emergency and rescue services.

In front of the Malecón of Havana, the tourists meet in the courtyards and halls of the National Hotel where there was little trace of the palm trees fallen by the winds. As they charge the battery of their cellular phones, the prevailing conversation was when they could take a flight to return to their countries.

The José Marti International Airport in Havana closed its operations until Tuesday for safety measures of air navigation.

“We were very scared, the winds were very strong and we had the feeling that the windows of the room would break”, recalls a still impressed Ana, a Spanish tourist who lived the hurricane housed in the Hotel Barceló Arenas Blancas in Varadero, a little more 100 kilometers from Havana.

The hotel staff propped up doors and windows with the help of the tourists, and the sunbeds were submerged in the pool so they would not blow through the air.

While the country lives the day after “Irma,” Cuban President Raul Castro appealed to the “spirit of resistance and victory of Cubans.”

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