Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cuba's second largest city without power, water after Sandy

Posted on Monday, 10.29.12

Cuba's second largest city without power, water after Sandy
Associated Press

HAVANA -- Residents of Cuba's second-largest city of Santiago remained
without power or running water Monday, four days after Hurricane Sandy
made landfall as the island's deadliest storm in seven years, ripping
rooftops from homes and toppling power lines.

Across the Caribbean, the storm's death toll rose to 69, including 52
people in Haiti, 11 in Cuba, two in the Bahamas, two in the Dominican
Republic, one in Jamaica and one in Puerto Rico.

Cuban authorities have not yet estimated the economic toll, but the
Communist Party newspaper Granma reported there was "severe damage to
housing, economic activity, fundamental public services and institutions
of education, health and culture."

Yolanda Tabio, a native of Santiago, said she had never seen anything
like it in all her 64 years: Broken hotel and shop windows, trees blown
over onto houses, people picking through piles of debris for a scrap of
anything to cover their homes. On Sunday, she sought solace in faith.

"The Mass was packed. Everyone crying," said Tabio, whose house had no
electricity, intermittent phone service and only murky water coming out
of the tap on Monday. "I think it will take five to ten years to
recover. ... But we're alive."

Sandy came onshore early Thursday just west of Santiago, a city of about
500,000 people in agricultural southeastern Cuba. It is the island's
deadliest storm since 2005's Hurricane Dennis, a category 5 monster that
killed 16 people and did $2.4 billion in damage. More than 130,000 homes
were damaged by Sandy, including 15,400 that were destroyed, Granma said.

"It really shocked me to see all that has been destroyed and to know
that for many people, it's the effort of a whole lifetime," said Maria
Caridad Lopez, a media relations officer at the Roman Catholic
Archdiocese in Santiago. "And it disappears in just three hours."

Lopez said several churches in the area collapsed and nearly all
suffered at least minor damage. That included the Santiago cathedral as
well as one of the holiest sites in Cuba, the Sanctuary of the Virgin
del Cobre. Sandy's winds blew out its stained glass windows and damaged
its massive doors.

"It's indescribable," said Berta Serguera, an 82-year-old retiree whose
home withstood the tempest but whose patio and garden did not. "The
trees have been shredded as if with a saw. My mango only has a few
branches left, and they look like they were shaved."

On Monday, sound trucks cruised the streets urging people to boil
drinking water to prevent infectious disease. Soldiers worked to remove
rubble and downed trees from the streets. Authorities set up radios and
TVs in public spaces to keep people up to date on relief efforts,
distributed chlorine to sterilize water and prioritized electrical
service to strategic uses such as hospitals and bakeries.

Enrique Berdion, a 45-year-old doctor who lives in central Santiago,
said his small apartment building did not suffer major damage but he had
been without electricity, water or gas for days.

"This was something I've never seen, something extremely intense, that
left Santiago destroyed. Most homes have no roofs. The winds razed the
parks, toppled all the trees," Berdion said by phone. "I think it will
take years to recover."

Raul Castro, who toured Cuba's hardest-hit regions on Sunday, warned of
a long road to recovery.

Granma said the president called on the country to urgently implement
"temporary solutions," and "undoubtedly the definitive solution will
take years of work."

Venezuela sent nearly 650 of tons of aid, including nonperishable food,
potable water and heavy machinery both to Cuba and to nearby Haiti,
which was not directly in the storm's path but suffered flash floods
across much of the country's south.

Across the Caribbean, work crews were repairing downed power lines and
cracked water pipes and making their way into rural communities marooned
by impassable roads. The images were similar from eastern Jamaica to the
northern Bahamas: Trees ripped from the ground, buildings swamped by
floodwaters and houses missing roofs.

Fixing soggy homes may be a much quicker task than repairing the
financial damage, and island governments were still assessing Sandy's
economic impact on farms, housing and infrastructure.

In tourism-dependent countries like Jamaica and the Bahamas, officials
said popular resorts sustained only superficial damage, mostly to

Haiti, where even minor storms can send water gushing down hills denuded
of trees, listed a death toll of 52 as of Monday and officials said it
could still rise. Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has described the storm
as a "disaster of major proportions."

In Jamaica, where Sandy made landfall first on Wednesday as a Category 1
hurricane, people coped with lingering water and power outages with
mostly good humor.

"Well, we mostly made it out all right. I thought it was going to be
rougher, like it turned out for other places," laborer Reginald Miller
said as he waited for a minibus at a sunbaked Kingston intersection.

In parts of the Bahamas, the ocean surged into coastal buildings and
deposited up to six feet of seawater. Sandy was blamed for two deaths on
the archipelago off Florida's east coast, including a British bank
executive who fell off his roof while trying to fix a window shutter and
an elderly man found dead beneath overturned furniture in his flooded,
low-lying home.


Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, David McFadden in
Kingston, Jamaica, and Jeff Todd in Nassau, Bahamas, contributed to this

Peter Orsi is on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Peter-Orsi


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