14ymedio, Natalia López Moya, Havana, 15 December 2023 – After the dearth of any official information or warnings prior to last weekend’s heavy rains, the Cuban authorities have been under pressure to put out warnings that this coming Saturday and Sunday there will be storms in the west of the country, and especially in Havana. In the capital, flooded after several days of rain, and with rubbish bins overflowing, residents were trying to prepare themselves, on Friday, for several coming days of being confined indoors.
In Central Havana one can see evidence of the continuous rainfall of the last few days. People queued outside bakeries, food ration stores and state-run shops that sell the so-called “free modules” which offered only detergent, vegetable oil, cigarettes and chicken picadillo. People have to get the rest of their provisions on the informal market or from private shops, at extremely higher prices.
In Plaza de Carlos III, the biggest shopping centre in the neighbourhood, the queue stretched right around the corner and one could see the desperation on the faces of many of those who were waiting. “They say things are going to get ugly”, one elderly woman feared as she waited to buy her family’s module, which is also called a “combo”. The institute of meteorology has forecast heavy coastal rain, with possibly very intense rainfall, for the weekend.
People have been becoming more worried as the morning has progressed: many fear that the city is defenceless in the face of any inclement climate effect. “All that rubbish which has accumulated over there, there’s no time to collect it, and not even bringing in the army could get rid of it in time before the weather gets worse”, says Javier, a resident who lives on the corner of Royo and San Martín in central Havana, where a mountain of waste has been collecting over several weeks.
On San Francisco and San Rafael the picture is the same – the rubbish mounts up and spreads out from the corner to almost half way across the block. Much of it also blocks the drainage grates which ought to be carrying the rainwater away – another cause for concern for the locals. Although their principal fear continues to be the possibility of building collapses.
“We’re going to my mother’s house because this roof is in a very bad state”, Yamilé, a resident of Gervasio/Laguna (San Leopoldo) tells 14ymedio. “Here, there’s always the danger of seawater ingress”, notes a woman who lives just 100 metres from the Malecón sea wall. “But this time we’re leaving not because of that but because we fear the heavy rain”.
“Water up there and water down here, a terrible combination”, adds Yamilé, who lives in a building dating from the 1920’s. “As we live on the first floor*, the seawater affects us mainly by contaminating the water tank, but if it’s also raining for days on end then it’s certain that the roof is going to be leaking as well”.
The streets, awash from all the rainfall, and having faulty drains as well, wouldn’t appear to be able to take any more water if the rain continues. “I’ve had to keep trying to dodge the puddles but it’s difficult because they’re everywhere”, says a worker from a state business premises on Calle Infanta.
This week’s winds took down one of the emblematic trees in Brotherhood Park, a key passenger transport hub, given the number of bus stops and private taxi ranks nearby. “It’s been like that for more than 24 hours and they haven’t come to clear it up”, complained a local resident who not only feared even further and greater damage but she also believed that “this tree could still be saved”.
After midday, the situation became worse and the winds grew stronger across the city, which coincided with the meteorological forecast of an imminent arrival on the island of an extra-tropical cyclone.
*Translator’s note: The ’first floor’, in Cuba as in much of the world, means the floor above the ’ground floor’.
Translated by Ricardo Recluso
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