Walking Through Havana Looking Up to Avoid Building Collapses

The cracks in two of the balconies of the Reina Building seem to deepen with the passing of days and the humidity left by this week’s downpours. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 7 June 2022 — Originally called the Reina Building, because of the street on which it is located, and renamed Almacenes Ultra because of the large store that is located on its ground floor, the building that bears number 109 on centrally located Reina avenue has become a danger for residents and passers-by. If inside there is a lack of water supply and leaks in the roofs abound, outside the threat is provided by the cracked balconies that overlook one of the busiest areas of Havana.

“I didn’t even look up, but after the collapses of the last few days due to the rains, I’ve started to look and this is a danger,” detailed a woman on Monday, while waiting in line for the bus in the park El Curita, a few meters from what was once one of the most famous and visited stores in the Cuban capital. The reason for her words is the balcony that overlooks the entrance to the Almacenes Ultra, cracked after the passage of years without maintenance.

The construction, which was once the envy of all who passed in front of its art deco facade, has been mired in disaster for years. In May 2022, a fire broke out in an apartment on the third floor and affected several adjoining apartments, but that was just one more step in the descent towards the abyss of deterioration that the building has experienced for decades. The problem of the scarce and sporadic supply of water seems to be what most despairs its inhabitants on a day-to-day basis.

“People believe that if you live above a store you have everything solved, but this is a disaster,” says Humberto, a resident there until a few months ago when he decided to move with his daughter to another neighborhood further from the center. “Yes, in Reina 109 I was a few minutes from Central Park and a jump from the Malecón, but what is all that if when I got up I didn’t even have water to wash my face. Very nice on the outside but a nightmare on the inside,” he details to this newspaper.

The soot that has been falling for years on the facade gives the entire construction a musty appearance, which in some parts still retains traces of the paint that once covered its walls. The cracks in two of its balconies seem to deepen with the passing of days and the humidity left by this week’s downpours. Beneath it passes a student in her uniform on her way to a nearby school, an old woman with a bag hanging from her arm and a young man with headphones who moves his hand to the rhythm of the music he is listening to.

Everyone is oblivious to the fact that a tragedy is brewing a few meters above. The same one that some have already seen from the tail of the bus, because the angle they are at allows them to see the terrifying perspective. “This is how misfortunes happen,” says a woman. He says it a few meters from the place where the Saratoga Hotel exploded a month ago, also very close to a collapse of a house at the back of the Fin de Siglo store, which left several families homeless, and a breath away from the collapse of a balcony on San Miguel street.

A sequence of the collapses of facades and roofs has redoubled the attention of Havanans when they walk through the streets. Some choose to look up to avoid the greatest dangers, others walk in the streets avoiding sidewalks and doorways, risking their lives with the vehicles. A considerable share reduces their outings outside the home, but in their own home there can also be danger. Like in the Almacenes Ultra building.


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