Hurricane Irma update

17th September 2017

From Cuba Solidarity Campaign

 Irma17

Thank you to everyone who has donated to CSC’s Hurricane Irma Appeal. An amazing £15,000 has been raised in less than 24 hours, all of which will be sent to Cuba to help with relief and recovery projects.

Make a donation here

The category 5 storm was the worst to hit Cuba in recent history. Unlike previous storms where damage has been limited to specific provinces, Hurricane Irma tore along 800 kilometres of the northern coast, making its impact felt across the entire island.

 

Coastal communities have been devastated by winds and flooding. Many are still without water and electricity as central power stations sustained major damage. Authorities and communities are working around the clock to restore electricity, water supplies and reopen the 400 schools which were also affected.

On Wednesday 13 September, power had been restored to 70 per cent of the country, however in the worst affected areas of Matanzas, Villa Clara and Ciego de Avila, up to 70 per cent of buildings were still without power three days after the storm.

The storm surge pushed seawater half a kilometre inland in some places, taking rubbish and sewage with it.

On Monday Cuban authorities announced that ten people had died as a result of the storm, mainly from collapsing buildings in Havana.

Nearly 300,000 hectares of sugar cane plantations have been affected, with nearly 40 per cent of the plants ruined or damaged. Communities have set to work harvesting and collecting what can be salvaged and distributed.

The Cuban ambassador to Britain, Teresita Vicente said that solidarity would be important over the coming months, since recovery efforts would be hindered by the impact of the US blockade: “The blockade makes it more difficult to recover but the spirit of the Cuban people is the same as it has been when we face many adversities.”

The ambassador reminded people that Cuba was also suffering from “Hurricane Trump” as the US increases its “aggressive policy” toward the country.

Just as Irma was about to hit, President Trump quietly extended the blockade for another year by signing the Trading with the Enemy Act.

“Political solidarity is very important but also this appeal is vital and will help to alleviate the difficulties faced by the Cuban people.”

CSC reiterates its solidarity with the Cuban people in the mammoth task they have ahead to rebuild their communities. We call once again for the US government to end its inhumane blockade of the country so that the Cuban people can access the building materials and equipment they will need to reconstruct their country following this tragedy.

You can make donations to the CSC Hurricane Appeal below. 100% of all donations will be passed on to relief work in Cuba.

Donate online here

Other donations

Cheques should be clearly marked on the back: ‘Cuba Hurricane Relief’. Please make cheques out to CSC and send to: Cuba Solidarity Campaign c/o UNITE, 33-37 Moreland Street, London EC1V 8BB, UK

For credit card or bank transfers call +44 (0)20 7490 5715 or email office@cuba-solidarity.org.uk

Further reading

Cuba in Recovery, report from Granma

Ambassador responds to Hurricane Irma Appeal

Trump extends the Trading with the Enemy Act

Further updates on hurricane relief and donations will be posted on www.cuba-solidarity.org.uk, our Facebook and Twitter pages and in the October issue of CubaSí magazine.

 

Hurricane Irma hits Cuba

10th September 2017

IrmaCuba

 Hurricane Irma batters Cuba

News that Hurricane Irma has reached Cuba has meant that BBC reportage has had to include the island in its assessment of the impact of the hurricane in the Caribbean.  The progress of the storm to date has focused upon the impact upon Barbuda, the Turks and Caicos Islands, British Virgin Islands and the potential impact upon mainland USA, in particular Florida.

Cuba is vulnerable to hurricanes and its government is famously well-prepared.  Even the United Nations once praised Cuba as a “model in Hurricane risk management” in 2004.  Jacobin Magazine notes that only 35 Cubans have died from the last 17 hurricanes.  Last year’s Hurricane Matthew did not kill anyone in Cuba, although it killed 271 people in nearby Haiti.

As the New York Times noted in 2013, the National Prognostic Centre of Cuba’s Meteorological Institute in Havana is responsible for monitoring the weather there.  Before President Barack Obama resumed diplomatic relations with Cuba, hurricane preparedness was one of the few things American and Cuban officials worked together on.

Despite an older infrastructure, its hurricane preparedness plans that are taught to children in schools have saved countless lives.  Children are even taught to identify at-risk trees and hazards in their neighbourhoods.  During a storm, schools, hospitals and hotels become members of the Cuban Civil Defence force and are responsible for caring for residents.

The Cuban government issues a seven days warning, during which time local communities are given ample opportunity to prepare for the worst.

Local leaders are the protagonists of disaster warning processes based on constant drilling, which takes place under the rubric of “risk-reduction” in every province, city, town and village.

These constant drills are coupled with an integrated response from local fire departments, health, transportation and other vital public services.  Above all, Cuba places tremendous emphasis on educating the population to keep communities and families, particularly the most vulnerable, safe.

While Cuban preparation places less emphasis upon evacuation, but rather focuses on “protection,” which includes reinforcing a local school capable of accommodating local communities and pets, the force of Hurricane Irma means that some evacuation measures have been necessary.  Sources from Cuba Solidarity Campaign suggest that one million Cubans have been moved to temporary shelter or higher ground for safety.

The Cuban National Defense Council for Disaster Reduction recognises that sea penetration, strong winds and rain will affect the electrical supply in affected territories.  To prevent any distribution to the service, the Cuban Electric Union (UEC) has set up 25 emergency towers to distribute electricity.

The UEC has formed 155 brigades, composed of 1,066 electricity workers, who will be distributed among the most affected provinces.

“The contingents are ready to go out and work on the quick solution of any difficulties that may arise,” noted Jorge Hernández, senior civil defense specialist at the UEC.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health, in conjunction with the Biotech and Pharmaceutical Industries Group, has organized 67 medical-surgical brigades to ensure medical assistance in difficult-to-access communities, officials reported.

This Ministry has also relocated 177 health system units (pharmacies, clinics, etc.) to solid and safe institutions in the affected territories.

Unlike the people of Texas and Louisiana affected by tropical storm Harvey, all of whom must apply for federal aid, Cubans, despite the country’s vastly inferior economic resources, do not feel as though they will be abandoned “no matter what,” nor subjected to market-driven price gouging of vital supplies as witnessed in Texas .

The Cuban approach to prevention policies demonstrate a thoughtful insight into the sheer power of nature and the impact of climate change.  The U.S. philosophy of disaster relief, on the other hand, is more of an afterthought.

In 2005, Cuba, which has suffered over half century of a U.S. economic blockade, offered to send 1,500 medical professionals from the Henry Reeves Brigade to help the people of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  The former U.S. President George W. Bush, swiftly rejected the offer.

Keep up to date with developments at

http://en.granma.cu/cuba/2017-09-09/irma-continues-to-pose-a-threat-to-cuba