Cuba: Anxiety Over Food, Electricity and Emigrating Following Hurricane Ian

Dozens of large trees, uprooted by Hurricane Ian, remain strewn on the street in Havana on Wednesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 28 September 2022 — In La Coloma (Pinar del Río), where Hurricane Ian reached its maximum strength on Tuesday as it passed over the Island, people just want to leave. “If my family comes out of this one, they won’t stay more than six months in Cuba,” bemoans a Miami-based Cuban woman whose parents and brother live in the Pinar del Río municipality.

The woman lost communication with them yesterday, but during their last phone call they told her that the roof of their house had torn off and the flood waters were knee high. The family has animals and crops. “I’ve spent years insisting they leave, but my father would say to me that he didn’t want to leave his little farm, but now everything is destroyed and it will be cheaper for me to pay their exit through Nicaragua than to rebuild their lives in La Coloma.”

They all fear that the day after the storm will arrive with greater scarcity and with it an increasing exodus, which has already reached unprecedented levels for Cuba.

On Wednesday Havana was a city operating at half steam. Most neighborhoods in the capital city awoke without electricity, the water supply shut down due to the lack of electricity and the winds from Ian seem to have given flight to inflation and increasing food prices.

“A bag of six rolls reached 250 pesos yesterday afternoon and 300 by night,” said one of the residents of Los Sitios, who said that today, “vendors have not passed and in the neighborhood they speculate that when they return, it will cost even more.”

During a trip through Centro Habana, La Habana Vieja and Nuevo Vedado, we witnessed dozens of giant trees uprooted by the powerful winds and strewn across the streets. “And the storm didn’t even pass through here,” remarked an old woman at the Parque Central.

Furthermore, several street lights had also fallen.

The anxiety over searching for missing food, even before the hurricane, had once again became a tonic in the streets of the capital, where several businesses tried to sell what was left at their doorsteps, before it spoiled due to the lack of electricity following the collapse of the National Electric System (SEN).

Pushcart salesmen here and there were some of the few options to purchase food.

The windows of Plaza de Carlos III were all shuttered, and not for the hurricane’s passing. On Monday, the eve of Ian, they were not covered but on Wednesday they were protected, in all likelihood to prevent thefts and destruction amid the widespread blackout.

On the corner of Campanario and Condesa, in Centro Habana, a car had been destroyed by the remains of the old building which once stood in that location, now an enormous parking lot. “Luckily it did not fall on anyone’s head,” said the resigned owner of the vehicle.

In Nuevo Vedado, residents of some of the buildings cleared their surroundings of fallen branches and shrubery, but one of them complained, “the large trees remain strewn there, because they need machinery and we have not seen the State appear anywhere.”

One of the urgent needs was charging telephones, a fundamental communication tool not only for their family and friends, but the world. Thus, it was interesting to see many people charging their mobile phones in hospital hallways, such as Calixto García or Hermanos Ameijeiras, as well as in hotel doorways.

Another worry among Havana residents today was water. Some buildings have pumps but they stopped working when SEN went down this afternoon. Although in many apartments people have water tanks, as the time goes on, these are depleted.

For higher floors it is crazy to try to carry water up the stairs, which in addition are wet and dirty, some for lack of windows for many years now.

Meanwhile, in that same area, the Ministry of Agriculture’s generator has been running for over 24 hours and its humming fills the area. “At least when we stop hearing it we’ll know the power is back on,” one resident said ironically.

On September 28th, the day officials traditionally celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), there’s been no time for revelry nor for slogans of triumph.

In Nuevo Vedado, an enthusiastic CDR member shouted to her neighbors for several long minutes from a 12 story building for them to collaborate in making the traditional stew.

“Let’s go, give some taro, some yucca, a yam for the stew! Or a bit of money to go buy at the market!” she shouted for a good while; a man with a booming voice joined her, “Let’s go to the CDR stew!” The lack of enthusiasm and the discomfort for lack of electricity weighed down the collaborations and finally the enthusiastic organizers canceled the initiative.

On Tuesday night, after the winds of Hurricane Ian died down, in Havana only the fires were alight. Ironically, in the largest Cuban city, one of the only illuminated areas was Turkey’s floating power plant anchored at the port, a power plant full of light in a city of darkness.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez


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