This report comes to CCS via an American journalist living in Havana. We are joining with other organizations to raise money through the CCS Lifeline Funds for supplies to go to Baracoa via the quickest route possible. Please send donations asap, we'll be publishing a list of donors (with your permission) and amounts (same) and let you know where we've contributed. Global Links is already preparing to send supplies as early as next week. If you send money to the Center (tax deductible donation) please note specifically that the contribution is FOR BARACOA.
I have been waiting all evening to send this preliminary report,
hoping I would be able to have communication with the community of San Antonio
del Sur in the southern coastal strip of Guantánamo Province that was also
among the areas most severely hit by Hurricane Matthew in eastern Cuba.
But phone lines are down and loss of electricity means that cell
phones can’t be charged up – so for now I’m sending some information only about
the town of Baracoa located on Guantánamo’s northern coast.
The four municipalities of Baracoa, Imías, Maisí and San Antonio del
Sur in Cuba’s eastern Guantánamo Province are perhaps the areas that have been
most strongly lashed by Hurricane Matthew. A lot of details and images are
already available on the Internet – particularly in CubaDebate - about the
impact of this hurricane and in the very near future, we’ll know the exact
dimensions of the destruction it’s left in its wake.
For the moment, it is important to say that due to Cuba’s incredibly
efficient and timely disaster preparedness, its broad and well-organized Civil
Defense system, the massive assistance of a hurricane-wise and
hurricane-experienced population and a deep commitment by the state to protect
human life – first and foremost – there are no reported deaths. Among other
things, this is due to evacuation of people living in potentially dangerous
areas, such as along the coast and in lowlands susceptible to flooding.
In Guantánamo Province alone, 227,598 people were evacuated of whom
182,281 (80%) were provided shelter in the homes of family and
friends – yet another example of Cuba’s characteristic solidarity in times of
need - and 45,508 were housed in state-provided and provisioned shelters.
To give you a more personal insight into the impact of the
hurricane, I’d like to quote from a phone conversation I received earlier this
evening (10/6 at 6pm) from Emercelda, a friend from Baracoa who surprisingly
found her phone still working when she briefly returned to her ocean-sogged
home - located just across the street from the Malecón (seawall) - to see the
extent of the damage. I’ve included some comments in brackets to provide
“There’s not so much wind right now but there’s still lots of rain.
There’s lots of people walking on the streets right now, shaking
their heads and extremely sad about the extent of the damage. Almost every home
in Baracoa [where 50,000 of the municipality’s 80,000 residents live] has lost
either their entire roof or part of the roof.
“All the wooden houses have been flattened to the ground. Lots of
large tanks holding water on top of homes and other structures were knocked to
the ground, even those full of water. This happened at our home as well. The
waves reached the top of the house [two stories] and completely carried away
our roof that was being held down with heavy sand bags.
“Even the solid homes suffered. Along Calle Martí, Baracoa’s main
street, virtually all the homes that
rent rooms to tourists lost their fronts – doors, windows, walls. Everything
taken away by Matthew. Everything has
been damaged or destroyed, even strong hotels. Hotel La Rusa lost its roofing
tiles and we found its large sign in front of our home, completely blown off!
Hotel Porto Santo is gone.
“All the rooms are without a roof. Other hotels lost their doors and
roofing tiles as well, even one of the newer ones being built in the city
centre. And in front of our house on the Malecón side, we found part of the
children’s rides that were swept up by the winds from the children’s
“But people are most concerned about food. Some of the panaderias,
our bread shops, have been completely destroyed. The one we use has had its
roof completely blown off. The entire city is without electricity as all
the electric posts have been knocked down, everywhere. There’s no gasoline. No
one can use wood, as everything is wet.
“Some people have a bit of kerosene but of course there’s nothing in
the stores to buy and many stores are damaged. Just before the hurricane hit
Cuba, stores were selling things like chicken and ice cream for very low prices,
as they had no freezers to store and protect them. For my family, I have a bit
of kerosene that I’ve taken to my sister’s home, in the neighbourhood of
Paraíso, where we’re staying.
“But she has no phone, and we can’t charge up my husband’s cell
We’re also unable to get out of the city to see how my mother is
doing, as there’s so much debris and the roads are impassable because of all
the trees that have been knocked down, and there’s no gasoline anyway. I’ve
heard her home has collapsed but we can’t find out anything for sure.
“Everyone is feeling very isolated. La Farola, the main road over
the mountains connecting Baracoa with the provincial capital of Guantánamo, is
damaged and transport can’t pass. The bridge over the Toa River has been
destroyed so there’s no communication with Moa.
This evening’s 8pm news said that of the 200-metre long bridge over the
Toa River, connecting Baracoa on the northern coast with Moa in neighbouring
Holguín Province, only 50 metres are still standing! Some people have heard on
their radios that potable water and food is already being distributed.”
Some electrical workers – linemen and others – who came to Baracoa
before the hurricane hit have said it may be two weeks before the city’s
electricity is repaired. They said the damage is so extensive it’ll have to be
fixed house by house. [An advance group of over 800 workers from the country’s
Electrical Union, UNE, coming from Cuba’s western provinces, have been in
Sancti Spíritus Province since Monday, waiting to assist with recuperation in
the eastern provinces as soon as the hurricane passed.]
“Matthew was a Category 5 hurricane when it left Baracoa. It was
stationary for two hours over Baracoa! With 260 km/hr winds. [Reported gusts
reached 300 km/hr!] No one here has ever seen such a hurricane as this in
Baracoa! It’s so sad to look at the surrounding mountains. It’s as if a huge chain was pulled over them
and taken down all the trees! All the mountains are bare! This is one of the
most densely forested parts of Cuba! But
there are no deaths, no injuries. And we can be proud of that.”
As for the Southern Coastal Strip, though I haven’t yet been able to
get direct information, I’ve already heard from friends in Havana who have
family living in San Antonio del Sur. In this small community alone, some 60
homes have been completely destroyed and over 100 others partially destroyed.
The nearby Valle de Caujerí, a super productive valley that is the
bread basket for this region as well as providing foods for the city of
Guantánamo, was completely flooded and lost much of its productive crops. The
Sabanalamar River, which passes through the town of San Antonio del Sur before
entering the sea, quickly flooded its banks.
In the area of Bate Bate, located to the west of San Antonio del Sur
in the same municipality, some 7 km of road were completely destroyed. This is
the same road that goes over La Farola and ultimately connects with Baracoa.
However, a temporary passage way was quickly prepared and the town of San
Antonio del Sur is now connected with the provincial capital.
Tomorrow I should be receiving more news from Baracoa as Emercelda
told me there are several other people who want to call me, plus try to find a
working computer with enough battery power to send some images. As soon as I
get more information, I’ll prepare another little report.