Boys play soccer inside of an empty swimming pool in the seaside town of Cojimar, Cuba, with homes severely damaged by Hurricane Irma’s winds and water in the background on Sept. 30.
Photo by MIAMI HERALD
Electrical power was quickly restored after Hurricane Irma’s scrape along Cuba’s northern coast, much of the flood damage in Havana was cleaned up within weeks, and tourism facilities opened in time for the winter season.
But the island still bears deep scars from Irma’s passage.
Four months after the first Category 5 hurricane to hit Cuba since 1932 caused 10 deaths and $13 billion in damages, housing remains the most critical need — especially in the central coastal provinces hardest hit by Irma. Tens of thousands of homes still need repairs.
In the 72 hours that Irma rolled across Cuba, the hurricane also took a heavy toll on agriculture, but most crops were quickly replanted. The 2018 sugar harvest is now underway, but damage to sugar mills, cane fields that were flooded or flattened, a prolonged drought and recent heavy rains are expected to add up to a disappointing harvest.
“Cuba is recovering — in some ways quickly. In other ways, recovery was moving glacially,” said Daniel Fernandez, chief executive of the Miami-based CubaOne Foundation, which took a group of 40 young Cuban-Americans on a hurricane relief mission to the island in late October.
“A complete lack of household construction materials meant that people who have lost their homes couldn’t expect building materials, like roofs, to be available before May 2018, eight months after the storm,” he said. “Many people preferred to leave the most affected towns near the shore and move in with family members further inland rather than rebuild, hollowing out small vibrant communities.”
Granma, the newspaper of Cuba’s Communist Party, recently published a six-part series on recovery efforts 100 days after Irma ripped through Cuba in early September before veering north toward Florida.
Twelve provinces suffered damage, but the Granma report focused on Havana, Villa Clara, Ciego de Avila, Matanzas, Sancti Spiritus, and Camaguey. Of 156,304 homes that suffered damage ranging from missing and partially missing roofs to total or partial collapses in those six provinces, more than 111,000 remain to be rebuilt, according to Granma.
In Havana, about 90 percent of damaged homes have been repaired, but 251 families have been unable to return to their dwellings because of the severity of the damage.
In Camaguey, where 43,689 homes took a hit, repairs had been completed for only 22 percent by the end of December, according to the Granma report. In Villa Clara, only 30 percent of the more than 51,000 affected homes have been rebuilt.
Of 31,540 homes damaged in Ciego de Avila, repairs had been completed on 8,750 at the end of December. More than 4,200 homes were considered to be total losses, but just 232 have been replaced. Cuba has been getting international help in replacing its battered housing stock.
Despite being in dire financial straits itself, Venezuela also has helped with the Cuban housing recovery. Gen. Ramon Espinosa Martin, chief of the Eastern army, recently visited Nuevitas, where the first of 50 “petrocasas,” donated by the Venezuelan government, are expected to be ready in February.
After some natural disasters, Cuba has rebuffed aid from U.S.-based organizations. But after Irma’s pass, Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, its Cuban partner, reached 7,000 people on the island with prepared food and hygiene kits.