14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 March 2019 — The residents finish removing their belongings from the apartments at the far end of the building on Rancho Boyeros Avenue that collapsed on Thursday, at the corner of Cerro and Colon Streets. They have been told the property is going to be demolished and that for their own safety should not stay a minute longer.
The decision came too late, after the building located in the Cerro neighborhood is already a mess of ruins and one of the 36 residents who lived in the ten affected apartments was crushed to death. Before the tragedy the authorities had decreed that these housing units did not meet the minimum security conditions and had to be destroyed.
“We had been asking the Government for more than fifteen years to repair the building but nothing, nothing happened with our complaints, we wrote to the newspapers, we went to all the offices that handle these cases but there was never a solution,” laments Julio, who is about 70, while talking to his neighbors this Friday under the shade of a mango tree.
Julio remembers that at dawn on Thursday he sensed a noise similar to the crashing of two trucks but when he looked out on the street he did not see anything unusual. “Suddenly I heard screams, ‘get out! get out! everyone!’, and when I opened the door of the apartment to go to the staircase, that was when I realized that I was looking at the sky and a few yards from my apartment everything had collapsed. I ran out and at that moment my only thoughts were for my daughter and my grandchildren who ten minutes earlier had left for school.”
Julio’s apartment suffered a deep crack months ago, big enough to put his hand in, he said. He called the government and they sent him to a specialist who “looked at everything and wrote a lot on some papers” but there was no further news of the matter.
“The person who died was my neighbor, a man who lived with his daughter and granddaughter, but who was alone yesterday. We were buried in the rubble.” The firefighters were slow to find us and I just asked Jehovah to get me out of there alive with my husband and my son,” Aydelin Medina tells 14ymedio while the firemen are removing her belongings from the rubble with a crane.
“We have been waiting for them to tell us something for a long time, to move us, but waiting and waiting and the building fell,” she adds. Yesterday, Medina slept in the house of a neighbor, although she says that the authorities have told them that they will give them some kind of accommodation.
In the group of neighbors who are waiting for the truck that the Government has sent to move their belongings to another place, there are only adults, including elderly people, since the children are in school at the time. In boxes and bags they have been taking everything out to the street, a small table, armchairs, fans, refrigerators, food. In all the coming and going a bag of sugar breaks and what spills to the ground serves as a snack for a stray dog.
The least affected apartments are those that face Colón Street but their occupants must also abandon them. A woman complains loudly in the face of pressure from the authorities to evacuate the property. “They are trying to shove us out of there, saying we have to leave now, but it is not easy to dismantle a house from one day to the next,” she says, while another neighbor answers her that at least her life was saved.
A girl arrives with tears in her eyes hugging the neighbors one by one. She is the daughter of Santiago, who died because of the collapse. Minutes before, they had been commenting that he was the person “who fought the most to get the building fixed.”
Julio explains to 14ymedio that on Thursday night they were taken “to a place beyond La Monumental where there is a villa with some small shacks.” He says that the authorities have informed them that they are to stay there “on a temporary basis” while somewhere else, they were assured, “they will build new houses” for all of them.
Julio is worried about the fate of his family. “It’s very sad, we’ve always lived here, my grandchildren are in the neighborhood school and now how are we going to come and go from so far, but also other people who were there in the neigborhood, in the same conditions as us, they told us that there is nothing available there quickly, that all this takes years until it is resolved.”
The shared dream of the residents is that the building will be demolished and a new one built in the same place, but most are already aware that this is not going to happen. “Yesterday the authorities came here and they explained to us that at the moment they are looking for the place to build our houses but that there is no chance will it be here,” Julio says with great sadness.
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