14ymedio, Havana, 28 January 2019 — As soon as the first rays of the sun appeared, the inhabitants of Havana began to understand the magnitude of the damage caused by a tornado that crossed several areas of the capital and so far has left three fatalities and more than 170 injured. Havana is paralyzed and without electricity. Complete neighborhoods are cut off from access to roads.
In the year in which the 500th anniversary of the founding of the town of San Cristóbal de La Habana will be commemorated, the tornado wind gusts have caused considerable damage to the homes in Regla, Guanabacoa, Luyanó, Lawton and other areas of the municipality October 10th. All these neighborhoods stand out for the deteriorated state of their buildings, some dating from the nineteenth or early twentieth century.
Evelio, resident of Maia Rodríguez Street, in La Víbora, woke up in the middle of the night because of the noise made by the wind. “When I looked outside, everything was chaotic and my car was heavily damaged by a branch that fell on it and other objects that flew and broke the windshield and several side windows,” he told this newspaper.
He fears that the insurance on the vehicle won’t cover the damage caused. “It’s an insurance that reimburses in national currency and everyone here knows that to repair a car you have to use convertible currency,” he says. The car is valued in the informal market at 25,000 CUC (roughly equal to $25,000 US), but Evelio fears that, if the insurance does pay something, “it will not be enough to even buy a new tire.”
In the social media, several Cubans living abroad have asked the General Customs Office of the Republic to allow more flexibility in the rules regarding personal importations in order to send aid to affected relatives and friends on the island. Others have demanded the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) lower the price of calls so that the citizens of Havana can speak with their relatives abroad.
However, so far the authorities have not articulated a position on these demands and neither has there been a call, from the Government, for a collection of aid for the victims.
Luyanó, in the municipality of 10 de Octubre (10th of October), took one of the worst hits in the destruction left by the tornado. A helicopter was flying over the neighborhood at noon on Monday, where neighbors were trying to clean up debris inside homes, on the rooftops and on the roads.
Numerous wooden facades, typical of the area, had been reduced to pieces and in the streets many people waited for the arrival of aid, especially water and food. According to the Institute of Meteorology, the extratropical low that reached the western region of the island Sunday had wind gusts of over 100 kilometers per hour and was accompanied by hail.
“This is the most terrifying thing I have lived through in my 82 years,” says Lidia, whose house was damaged by the fall of a tree limb that broke the water tank on the roof and broke off a window. Now the main concern of the retiree is “to have water and food, because all the bakeries were closed in the morning and I have not been able to even eat breakfast”.
The Cuban capital has experienced a severe shortage of basic products such as flour, oil and eggs in recent weeks that has complicated the domestic economy. Now, with the devastation left by the intense storm, fear has spread among the inhabitants of the capital city that the situation could get worse.
Leonor, another resident of Luyanó, recalls Sunday night as one of the worst of her life. “We were watching the news, coincidentally the weather report, when we felt a noise like an airplane and some yellow lights,” she tells this newspaper. The woman tried to close the doors and windows but was unable to due to the the force of the wind.
“The tornado has come and gone but now how long will it take to fix this,” she asks herself, relieved and worried at the same time.
Doris, a resident of San Jose Street, between Remedios and Quiroga, described the noise that the tornado produced “like a train crash.” In her house “everything shook and the doors of the display case shut by themselves,” she now recalls in one of the areas most punished by the wind gusts.
In Doris’ block several neighbors rescued a man whose house collapsed. “We took him out from under the rubble with the back of the chair around his head” and, although he was hurt, his injuries were not serious. The woman explains that the pipeline that supplies gas “broke but they have not disconnected the service” and, despite several calls to the state company, nobody has arrived to repair the problem.
In Regla, at the end of Havana Bay, the neighbors this morning crowded the polyclinic of the area to take advantage of electricity, supplied by a group of generators, to charge their mobiles and communicate. Several state stores disposed of the last of their merchandise for fear that the lack of refrigeration would damage the products.
The main damages are in the peripheral districts of Regla, with many trees and downed power poles. All the testimonies collected by this newspaper assure that the tornado lasted less than a minute and that it did not allow time to react.
Throughout the day the neighbors have shown their solidarity with the victims, helping to repair the damages without anyone having to ask them to mobilize.
The lines to buy food extended out in front of the few shops that are open in town, especially to buy bread, crackers and eggs. In the streets there is a large presence of police, along with the frantic movement of trucks and motorized equipment for removal of the debris.
Matilde, a neighbor of the La Colonia quarter, tells 14ymedio that she was already in bed when she heard a noise “like the howl of a monster”. She went out to look and immediately heard a noise behind her because her house had collapsed in the wind. She is now out on the streets and some neighbors have helped her with a little coffee and words of encouragement.
This is one of the worst natural disasters that Havana has suffered in recent years.
Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria
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