Baracoa, The Face Of Disaster / 14ymedio, Yunier Reyes

Hurricane Matthew left serious damage in Cuba at the eastern end of the island, with total and partial collapses of houses, electricity poles and roads completely cut off. (EFE)
Hurricane Matthew left serious damage in Cuba at the eastern end of the island, with total and partial collapses of houses, electricity poles and roads completely cut off. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yunier Reyes, 6 October 2016 — Baracoa has taken a pounding. Everywhere you look roofs have blown off and the residents are trying to save any pieces of their homes that can be reused. They walk over the mounds of bricks, climb over the bits of stairs that no longer lead anywhere, and salvage the window frames that were once set into walls. The city looks like a ruin, but the growing roar of survival persists.

Hurricane Matthew has already traveled far from Cuba’s eastern tip, although the passage of this unwanted visitor will linger for years in the memories of Baracoans. “I’m looking for the photo of my grandfather that was in the living room,” says Cira, 58, a resident who on Tuesday collected the little she had and went to the house of some relatives who had a “sturdy roof” to face the strong winds.

The woman has now returned to the place where her home was, to find barely the outline of the foundations. “My room was here,” she says, and two steps further on, under a mountain of debris the pure white toilet peaks out. She lost everything: her television, mattress, coffeemaker, a mahogany table she inherited from her mother and the portrait of her grandfather that she used to put “flowers in front of every day.”

Cira’s story is not the most serious. In Baracoa everyone has been touched by the misfortune. Luisito, age 8, can’t find his dog, which he called for all Wednesday afternoon before returning to the house of some cousins where his family took shelter; by the end of the day he hadn’t seen the dog’s tail nor its white back anywhere. “I’m sure he hid, he’s very smart,” his mother said to comfort him.

No deaths have been reported in the wake of the devastating hurricane, but the city looks like a corpse. The firefighters and military brigades that are arriving advise the residents to stay away from the wreckage and be careful around shards of metal and the broken boards and glass all over the ground. But few heed them.

They are in a battle against the clock. They want to retrieve all the materials they can for the partial or total reconstruction of their homes. They fear that when the area is militarized they’ll be moved far from their homes and will be unable to continue salvaging their personal belongings that remain dispersed along the ground.

People console themselves knowing that the situation is even more serious in other parts of Guantanamo province, which no one has been able to get to yet. The road to Maisi is blocked by trees and chunks of asphalt torn out of the higheway. Hardly anything is known about what happened to “the crocodile’s snout” – the easternmost point of the island.

The rivers are still swollen and in the area of San Antonio del Sur the roads are torn up and the lines in front of the bakery are growing. The more farsighted, who managed to buy some food before the beginning of the first gusts of Matthew, declare they have nothing left. “There isn’t much to eat,” complained a woman near the state store, one of the few in the whole town with an electric generator.

On the outskirts of Baracoa the air is filled with the buzz of chainsaws from a technical military brigade, intent on trying to break through to the villages that have been cut off. The phone lines are cut and cellphones can’t be recharged because of the lack of electricity.

Nobody knows anything about what happened to the residents of Purialess, a small town in the area. There is no communication by landlines or cellphones and radio and television signals don’t reach them. The huge repeater antenna of Radiocuba is deaf and mute, having falling on a roof.

One of the worst scenarios is in the section between Bagá and the area known as La Curva del Sapo – the curve of the toad. Electricity pylons have collapsed and the ground is covered with a carpet of banana plants that did not withstand the winds. The tomato fields are damaged and concern about a food shortage is widespread.

The greatest drama falls on those who have completely lost their homes. This Wednesday night some didn’t want to move from the place where they once loved, slept and cooked. The walls and the roof are gone, but “this is my home,” says Cira, flashlight in hand, as she continues to search for the photo of her grandfather.