14ymedio (with agency information), Havana, 15 September 201 — Raúl Castro still has not visited any of the many areas affected by Hurricane Irma this past weekend and remains entrenched in the Palace of the Revolution, where on Wednesday night he led a meeting of the highest level officials to evaluate the damages caused by the hurricane, according to a report in the official press on Friday.
“The blow was very strong and spread throughout most of the country, but with the hard work that is being done, we will once again move forward,” Castro said, according to an article that filled the entire cover pages of both the Granma and Juventud Rebelde newspapers
The country entered a recession in 2016 for the first time in almost a quarter of a century and although in the first half of this year it experienced a slight recovery, the passage of the hurricane set the stage for a strong setback for the island’s exhausted economy.
Raúl Castro also “recognized the arduous work deployed in each of the places affected by the devastating meteorological event,” and said that he “has worked very hard” and asked that Cubans learn from experience to “be prepared.”
The president noted that the “intense” hurricane season in the Caribbean, “a clear product of climate change,” does not end until November 30.
The state press stressed that, “the army general called to continue working without rest, to face the problems with serenity and to keep the people informed by all possible means on the situation that the country faces.”
In addition, the president added, “there is a need to deal with problems with intelligence” taken from the “best experiences” applied after the passage of other hurricanes such as Sandy (2012), which battered Santiago de Cuba, or Matthew (2016) which caused serious damage when crossing the eastern end of the island.
These are the first communications from the Cuban president aired since last Monday, when he sent a written message to the population in which he appealed to the “spirit of resistance and victory of the Cubans” and recognized the “severe damages” caused by Irma.
Meanwhile, the government continues to assess the damage caused by the storm, which has left roughly two million cubic yards of solid waste in the streets of Havana, where 180,000 cubic yards were collected on Thursday, including trees, roofs, debris, poles and electricity and communications cables.
The cleaning of the capital is being carried out by the 19,240 workers of the state-owned communal services company, with 731 trucks and 12 cranes, supported by brigades from the Armed Forces, the Navy, inmates and voluntary state workers, according to Juventud Rebelde.
The Ministry of Education also reported the blow suffered by several universities. Those in the center of the country — Martha Abreu, of Villa Clara; José Martí, of Sancti Spíritus; Máximo Gómez Báez of Ciego de Avila and Ignacio Agramonte of Camagüey — will receive resources to repair damages according to the level of deterioration, said Minister José Saborido.
In the case of the University of Camagüey, the minister said that the greatest damage is located in the loss of about 10,000 feet of waterproofing which, for the moment, leaves exposed about 800 beds in student residences.
During a tour of its facilities, the head of Higher Education in Cuba said that the center “did not experience major impacts on equipment,” but there were some broken windows in dorms, classrooms and laboratories, as well as the loss of zinc tiles in the gym at the site of the Manuel Piti Fajardo Physical Culture facility.
Saborido set the reopening of the university for next Monday, when the current school year will be gradually restarted, as the necessary conditions are restored.
The impact caused severe, unquantified effects, including more than 1,700 elementary, secondary and pre-university schools affected by the rains and the strong winds that came with the hurricane.
The Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Velázquez, told the official media that the most damaged schools are in Havana, Matanzas and Villa Clara; while the greatest damage was recorded in Ciego de Ávila and Camagüey, and the main damages are in roofs, doors, broken windows, and contaminated water tanks.
Velázquez explained that the school year will be progressively resumed in the country, as the hygiene conditions and the availability of safe water stabilize, and in schools with serious damages students will be relocated to other facilities or family homes to continue classes.
The country has 10,698 educational centers and of them 510 were destined for people evacuated during the passage of the hurricane. Many schools that were converted to shelters for victims still remain occupied, so, according to the minister, alternative places need to be found to teach classes.
In Havana, the areas most damaged by the hurricane were Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, Vedado and Playa, where the sea penetrated nearly 1,000 feet inland and the hurricane winds caused total and partial collapses of houses. More than 4,400 homes in the city were affected prior to Wednesday, when another 21 total collapses were added to the 157 already reported, along with 9 partial collapses and 82 additional damaged roofs.
According to the official information, Havana’s electrical network was restored by Thursday to 86% of its coverage, although some areas of the city have been without service since last Saturday, including Playa and Plaza de la Revolución. The authorities insisted that by yesterday, Thursday, electricity would be restored throughout the capital.
The water supply was also brought on line and at the moment the four main water supply services to the population of Havana, with a coverage of 90%, are stable and working. However, some 14,600 people are still supplied by tanker trucks.
The supply of fuel is also normalized in the city, where more than 265,000 gallons have been distributed to service stations, the official report said.
Across the island, the hurricane knocked down some 2,400 communications poles, and thousands of others supporting the power lines, many taken down by fallen trees.
Irma, which touched down first on Cuba’s northwest keys as a category 5 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, left 10 dead on the Island, mostly due to house collapses.