How to Survive a Collapse? / Frank Correa

Rescuers extract the body of Isabel Maria Fernandez, age 50, victim of a collapse that occurred in Vibora, Havana, in September of 2013. Photo:

There is nothing written, except to be touched by luck.  “Suicides” that inhabit collapsed buildings talk about the time bomb.

HAVANA, Cuba.  An anonymous survivor of a collapse (he did not want his identity leaked), in a shelter with his family in a place in Playa township, told me the story of when part of the building where he used to live went down.

He occupied an apartment on the second floor of a four-story building.  It was night.  By luck, his wife was in the polyclinic with their son who had asthma, and another child was in the Latin-American Stadium, watching the game between the Industrials and Santiago with two neighbors, who were also saved.

He says that he was alone, seated in an armchair in the living room, watching the news, when suddenly the television and half the living room disappeared from his view with a roar, and he saw the two upper floors falling.

He will never forget the bulging eyes of his neighbor Leovigilda, washing the dishes in the kitchen, when she passed downward and asked him with signs what was happening. Then he saw the last floor pass by, crumbled, and some woman’s legs on a bed, and a cat that was jumping through the rubble. Later the roof passed in a jumble.

When he recovered from the shock, in the middle of a cloud of dust, he peeked out and observed a mountain of rubble. His armchair had remained at the edge of the abyss and he didn’t move from there until the rescue brigade arrived.

“We inhabitants of those buildings are suicides,” he says.  “They need to build many Alamar neighborhoods*, and get everyone out of those time bombs, which with each minute it brings death closer.”

Where do the “creatures” that make the night live?

The housing infrastructure of Old Havana, Central Havana, Cerro and 10th of October townships can be classified as “deplorable” because of the age of their buildings, lack of maintenance and violation of building standards on the part of their inhabitants who, for lack of dwellings, subdivide the spaces without order or control in order to accommodate new tenants.

In a building on Animas and Virtudes streets, which at the beginning was designed for 10 families, 45 are living there today. And in one on Marcaderes and Aramburen the stairway collapsed completely. The order by the Housing Authority to abandon the building was given, but the residents placed temporary steps and go up and down constantly putting their lives at risk.

On Cuba and Amargura streets there is a site that resembles a beehive.  No one can calculate exactly how many people it shelters. By day a certain number is counted, above all children who leave for school and old people running errands, but at nightfall a legion of characters comes out to make a living: transvestites, homosexuals, pimps, prostitutes, and criminals.

Given the extremely poor physical condition and lack of sense of belonging of their tenants, these old buildings ruined by time and governmental incompetence are a breeding ground for collapses which jeopardize the lives of the inhabitants.

*Translator’s note: Alamar is a “model community” built in east Havana in the early years of the Revolution. A video is here.

Cubanet, 6 March 2014 |

Translated by mlk