14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez/Mario Penton, Havana-Miami, 6 September 2017 — After devastating Antigua and Barbuda, Hurricane Irma continues to approach Cuba with sustained winds of more than 180 miles/hour. The islander’s residents are anxious buy food, candles and materials to reinforce doors or windows but the chronic shortages of the last weeks are aggravated by the increase in demand.
In Baracoa, one of the cities that is most afraid of the approach of a new hurricane because it has not yet recovered from the previous one, people took to the streets this morning in search of food that does not need refrigeration and that can withstand the scourge of humidity, but found very little to buy.
“There are no cookies nor milk powder, nor are they selling candles and the bakeries have had very long lines since dawn,” Humberto López, a resident of the town whose home lost its roof during Hurricane Matthew, lamented on the phone, adding that he did not want “that monster come here.”
The Cuban economy has suffered since the beginning of the economic crisis in Venezuela. This year Raúl Castro’s government announced a cut of US $1.5 billion in imports in the first half of the year, with a direct effect on the retail market.
Despite an increase in remittances and tourism, the Cuban economy depends to a large extent on contracts signed with Caracas, which supplies some 60,000 barrels of oil a day in exchange for thousands of Cuban specialists camped out in its territory.
Cuban authorities have declared a hurricane alert for the center and east of the country, the step that precedes the hurricane alarm, just as the winds begin to beat the island. So far this century, Cuba has faced about 15 hurricanes with losses of more than 26 billion dollars, according to official figures.
In the market at 3rd and 7th streets, in the west of the Cuban capital, the number of customers has not yet increased significantly, but in the the stores refrigerators this Wednesday there are only chicken pieces, hotdogs and a few packets of ground meat. The most cautious are, for the most part, owners of private businesses who don’t want to run out of supplies.
“There is no toilet paper, there are only small bottles of water and milk there is nothing for days,” laments Yusnier, a young entrepreneur who helps his mother rent three rooms to tourists. “We have to guarantee the foreigners breakfast every day and this hurricane puts everything at risk.”
If Irma were to hit the island as a category 5 storm on the Saffir Simpson scale, it would enter the record books as one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to hit the largest of the Antilles; since records have been kept, starting in 1791, only three hurricanes of this intensity have reached the Cuban coast.
According to data from the Institute of Meteorology, 115 hurricanes have hit Cuba since 1791. Of these, 14 hurricanes had an intensity in the winds between 130-156 mph, corresponding to category 4 an the scale and about 16 reached category 3 (111-129 mph).
In the main agricultural markets of the capital, people’s anxiousness to store food is already apparent. A pound of black beans, which costs the official salary of a working day in places such as San Rafael Street or 19th and B in Vedado, were selling like hot cakes as of yesterday afternoon. “It’s something that does not spoil and that can withstand rain and wind,” said a customer this morning in front of a display of chickpeas.
On a tour of hotels near the coast of Havana it is not yet possible to see the warning signs. “The city has not yet been formally put on alert so we do not have the authority to allocate resources to cover the windows or take other protective actions,” an employee of the Deauville hotel, who preferred to remain anonymous, told this newspaper.
The cays located in the north of the island, one of the main tourist centers of the country, are among the most affected. At a time of increases in tourism, Irma could force the authorities to carry out mass evacuations of travelers from the areas in greatest danger and move them to other tourist centers, in a country with a hotel capacity, as of the end of 2015, of only 63,000 rooms.
The authorities have warned that the main dangers associated with Hurricane Irma are wind, rain and sea penetrations. In 2008 the penetration of the sea in Baracoa, the first city founded in Cuba, completely destroyed its malecón and the first row of houses of that city. That image was replayed with the scourge of Hurricane Matthew and could be repeated with the approaching passage of Irma.