Saturday, April 27, 2013

In Cuba, much work remains 6 months after Sandy

In Cuba, much work remains 6 months after Sandy
A half-year after Hurricane Sandy, Cuba has had successes in recovery
but much work remains
By Peter Orsi, Associated Press | Associated Press

HAVANA (AP) -- Many people in eastern Cuba are still living with family
or in houses covered by flimsy makeshift rooftops six months after
Hurricane Sandy pummeled the island's eastern provinces, residents and
aid workers said Thursday.

Many praised the government's efforts to rebuild Santiago and other
cities but said much work remains to recover from the storm, which
caused 11 deaths in Cuba before raging up the U.S. Atlantic Seaboard and
killing 72.

"It was very hard-hit, but Santiago is once again blossoming," Aristides
Zayas, a receptionist in Santiago said in a phone interview. "Of course
the magnitude was such that not everything can get off the ground in six
months. It will take time."

The half-year mark comes amid preparations for similar commemoration by
states up and down the U.S. East Coast, where Sandy blew ashore in New
Jersey on Oct. 29 as a monster storm that resulted in billions of
dollars in damage.

Sandy had raked eastern Cuba four days earlier, causing major crop
losses and damaging an estimated 130,000 to 200,000 homes. The
government has not said how many of those have yet to be repaired or

Cuban scientists say Sandy's surge penetrated 50 yards (meters) inland
and permanently altered much of the eastern coastline, washing away
entire beaches and depositing sand elsewhere.

Shortly after the storm hit, Cuban President Raul Castro visited
Santiago and said the city looked like it had been "bombed."

Cuba's highly organized civil defense brigades mobilized to get newly
homeless people into shelters, distribute food and water and replant
uprooted trees. Authorities also extended loans for rebuilding and
knocked 50 percent off the price of home materials for storm victims.

Communist Party newspaper Granma said Thursday that for visitors today,
"the first thing that catches one's attention and impresses ... is to
find a clean and well-ordered city."

But residents said problems remain.

"From what I hear some things are still lacking," said Sister Mirtha, a
Roman Catholic nun in the town of El Cobre, 30 miles (50 kilometers)
east of Santiago. "Some people have roofs, but others still do not.
There are people who are getting rained on, and it's thanks to neighbors
that they have somewhere to go."

She said some who live in informal housing situations have had
difficulty getting their hands on building materials, because residents
are required to show property titles to get the discounted items.

An international aid worker who has been closely involved in the relief
effort said construction materials like bricks and corrugated iron
rooftops are in short supply since local production is not meeting
demand, and many items must be imported. Some families have moved back
into damaged homes with just plastic sheets covering the roofs.

"They've done really well on re-establishing access to services like
electricity and water, reopening roads, clearing out trees that have
fallen down," the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity in
order to maintain the organization's relationship with island
authorities. "All of that was quite quick given the scale of the impact."

"But at the individual level there's still a lot of work that needs to
be done ... and my sense is that the government can't tend to every
family's individual needs."

State-run news agency Prensa Latina reported this week that Santiago
provincial authorities are prioritizing construction to make sure
everyone displaced by Sandy has a safe place to live, a mission that
takes on more urgency with the 2013 Atlantic hurricane season set to
begin June 1.

There's also still plenty of work for international aid groups, which
are continuing to distribute things like water tanks, purification
tablets, mattresses, sheets, towels and other household goods.

"There's still a lot of families that are living in very precarious
situations," the aid worker said. "Now that's a bit of a concern,
because the rainy season's coming and you want to make sure that people
have proper shelter."


Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez in Havana contributed to this


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