Stand with Cuba
First News After Hurricane Ian Sweeps Western Cuba
Since last night, Hurricane Ian began to hit Cuba’s western provinces, especially La Isla de la Juventud (Youth Island) and Pinar del Rio, the province where it landed at 3:25 AM. Ian, a category three hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, made landfall in the town of La Coloma, San Luis municipality on the southern coast of Pinar del Rio.
The evacuation of over 50,000 people began yesterday, most of them to homes of their relatives out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, others were transferred to one of the 58 shelters set up for the occasion. Likewise, in Pinar del Rio, thousands of tons of tobacco leaves, one of the most important items in the economy of this province, have been sheltered.
Cuban government authorities have made available all the necessary resources to assist evacuees, while the Cuban Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) and the National Electric Union (UNE) have reinforced their customer services to provide timely information and get reports of any damage to their services. The Cuban Civil Defense, an institution created to manage disaster situations, is maintaining a state of alarm in the western provinces and has taken all measures to protect people’s lives.
Upon its landfall, Ian reported sustained winds over 127 mph [204 kmph] and over 8 inches [20 cm] of pouring rain in the municipalities of Pinar del Rio and San Juan y Martinez, where the effects were particularly severe. In the latter one, Ian hit it with a 135 mph [217 kmph] gust, the strongest recorded. While in nearby towns such as La Palma and Pinar del Rio city, the gusts exceeded 100 mph [160 kmph].
It took six hours to cross Cuban territory without ever losing strength, which caused much damage to houses, crops, and other economic objectives. The exact figures are being calculated at this moment, while a desolate landscape looms over several communities. Pinar del Rio Province’s electric service was entirely turned off as a security measure and several infrastructural damages have impeded its restoration.
The province’s housing fund has suffered severe damage, especially to the roofs. The Abel Santamaria provincial hospital suffered major structural damage, while three lighting towers of the “Capitan San Luis” baseball stadium collapsed as a result of the strong winds.
Coastal flooding was particularly intense in Pinar del Rio and Artemisa, where both the force of the sea and the overflowing of some rivers have left entire communities disconnected. Despite this, the timely evacuation of these towns prevented the loss of any human lives.
Even though it was less affected, Artemisa province shows severe damage. The baseball stadium lost one of its lighting towers, while about 40 per cent of banana crops were lost. Other crop areas suffered considerable losses, although it does not surpass 15 per cent of the land. All this put even more pressure on Cuba’s food situation, since Artemisa is a major food producer in the country and one of the main suppliers of the capital city.
In Havana, sustained winds of 54 mph [87 kmph] were recorded and usually exceeded 62 mph [100 kmph]. The fiercest gust reached 85 mph [137 kmph]. Rainfall was weak in the capital, and damage to infrastructure and services has been slight by comparison, but not insignificant. On Saturday afternoon, over 70 per cent of the city’s customers had no electricity as a safety measure.
In the country’s central region, heavy rains have been the biggest problem. In Cienfuegos and Matanzas, all reservoirs are closely watched to avoid floodings downstream, while making the best to store as much water as possible.
Tropical storm winds will persist throughout the western region until early tonight when weather conditions will start to improve. However, Cubans have not waited until then to begin recovery efforts.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel immediately went to Pinar del Rio to visit the affected areas and established the priority: “erasing the traces of the hurricane as soon as possible,” especially re-establishing basic services. He also urged a detailed survey of people’s losses. It is a very sensitive task that requires the greatest possible touch due to the difficult economic situation that Cuban families find themselves in.
On the other hand, since Tuesday morning, more than 58 brigades of electricians and linemen from all over the country have been mobilized to Pinar del Rio to restore electricity and telephone communications in the shortest possible time.
The images of the affected areas are devastating. The Cuban media have not stopped reporting for a single minute, and it hurts to see so much destruction for people who have fought so hard during these last three years. Images of collapsed roofs, destroyed or flooded houses, streets obstructed by poles, and fallen trees flood all social media. However, the most important thing has been preserved: life.
It hurts to see so much effort down the drain, but hope sparks when you see thousands of people already helping their neighbors or in their workplaces. They are the true main characters of these stories. Their names will never be on the books, but they will undoubtedly remain in the minds of those who were assisted, at least with an extra hand. In moments like this, the Cuban soul comes up, this is when the principles of unity come to the front. Cuba has weathered many battles this year from the explosion of the Saratoga Hotel in May to the devastating supertanker fire in Matanzas last month and now Hurricane Ian. While the government works alongside them at all levels, they are doing it with few resources, but always providing fair and equitable treatment.
In Cuba, it is usual to hear “material things come and go but they can be replaced.” Perhaps this vision comes after a history marked by this type of catastrophe. So far, in the 21st century, Cuba has been affected by eleven intense hurricanes, which means it has recovered ten times already and will do so again.
(Resumen. Photos and graphics: Minrex, Insmet, Tele Pinar, Artemiseño, Cubadebate, Estudios Revolución, La Demajagua, Union Electrica.)