“This Town Can’t Stand Another Hurricane”

At 11:30 p.m. on Thursday, coastal flooding began in Baracoa. (Venceremos / @ PrensaGtmo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 September 2017 — In El Girasol, a town on the outskirts of the Cuban city of Guantánamo, residents look up at the sky with fear. Most of the houses in the area “can’t stand another hurricane,” warns Yoanni Beltrán, owner of a house with cardboard walls and a light roof that, as of Thursday, has already begun to suffer from the rains associated with Hurricane Irma.

At midnight, the storm was 125 miles northeast of Punta de Maisí on the eastern end of the island and workers at La Rusa hotel felt they were experiencing a déjà vu from Hurricane Matthew, which last October tore the roof off that emblematic lodging.

“We are here, but we are not offering services because right now it’s about preserving the place to avoid its getting damaged again,” a local employee told this newspaper by phone. Hours after that call, staff were also evacuated in the face of deteriorating weather conditions.

The situation during the afternoon was very different. Juannier Rodríguez Matos, a resident of the city, told 14ymedio that people seemed “too trusting” because the eye of the storm will not pass through the area. “The most worried are those who have spent almost a year living in shelters because they lost everything with Matthew, and now the solution to their problem may be delayed,” said the young man.

At 11:30 p.m. on Thursday night, coastal flooding began in Baracoa and the roofs of several houses collapsed under the force of the winds. Most of the residents in the lower parts of the municipality and within 45 miles of the coast have left their homes to go to shelters, caves, military refuges or the homes of other family members.

In other Guantanamo towns the evacuation continues at a more leisurely pace. “A group of neighbors had the initiative for us to shelter in a kindergarten,” Yoanni Beltran told this newspaper. “A lieutenant colonel of the Civil Defense said that we had to leave and wait for the order to arrive so we can do it.”

Although weather conditions in El Girasol have not deteriorated to the point of building collapses or falling trees, residents fear that the situation will worsen and they will be trapped amid the winds and rain.

The dangers associated with Irma have not loosened police controls or lessened repression. Maykel González, a contributor to the Diario de Cuba site attempted to interview evacuees in Isabela de Sagua; he and his colleague Carlos Alejandro Rodríguez were arrested for reporting.

The police forced the two reporters to erase their interviews and also forced them to undress for a meticulous body search, a situation similar to that experienced by the Periodismo de Barrio (Neighborhood Journalism) team when it tried to cover the damage left by Matthew last October.

In Santiago de Cuba, where the effects of the hurricane had not yet been felt as of midnight Thursday, more than 75,000 people had been evacuated, and in the province of Camagüey 130 shelters are available for those living in areas of greatest danger.

Nora Gonzalez, a resident of Santa Lucia beach in Camagüey, summarized her fears in a more than eloquent way, for this newspaper. “Today you are someone who boasts of prosperity and in a few hours a hurricane passes and you are no longer anyone. The worst thing is that you do not have the strength to start from the beginning.”