The following article first appeared in Granma on Sept. 1, 2021.
By Yaima Puig Meneses
The response to damages caused by Hurricane Ida is evidence that there is coherence, capacity and organization here, stated Communist Party of Cuba Central Committee First Secretary and President of the Republic, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, upon concluding a working tour the afternoon of Aug. 29, in the province of Pinar del Río, where he arrived early in the day, to later continue on to the Isle of Youth special municipality.
Accompanied by Party Political Bureau member and Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz, as well as a portion of the country’s national government team, the President was able to evaluate, at different points in both territories, the progress being made in clean-up efforts, the recovery of affected crops, restitution of public services that were interrupted and the initial response to repair identified damage to home.
The work that has been carried out, he noted, shows that there is a spirit within our people to overcome adverse situations caused by events of this type. This, he emphasized, gives us the confidence and optimism needed to move forward in the midst of so many difficulties we have been obliged to face recently. Plus, it is an expression of our unity and understanding of the problems we have and must continue to confront.
Challenges of Ida plus the pandemic
“Now, let’s make sure none of the produce that has been recovered is lost,” was one of the principal ideas reiterated by the President in Pinar del Río, when he met with producers whose crops were affected by the hurricane.
It is precisely in agriculture where the greatest impact of the extreme weather event in the province has been observed. Preliminary data, presented by Governor Rubén Ramos Moreno, indicates that 687 tons of cassava and 551 tons of plantain were damaged, along with losses of boniato and squash. Everything that could be recovered, he assured, was sold to the population.
While touring areas of the Hermanos Barcón productive pole, one of the principal centers of this type in the province of Pinar del Río, the President conversed with producers and managers, insisting that work to launch a short-cycle planting strategy be prioritized, which will allow for availability of more produce, the immediate recovery of plantain fields, and increased harvests and replanting.
“No time can be lost in beginning planting,” he stressed. “This is a good time to take advantage of the moisture left by the rains.” One of the big challenges, he emphasized, is to achieve greater diversification of crops, which will allow us to meet the population’s demand for food today.
During a meeting with the province’s main authorities, information was provided on damage caused to homes by Hurricane Ida. Preliminary figures indicate that 148 properties were affected, two of which were identified as total losses and 109 with only partial damage to roofs. It was reported that when the Recovery Phase was declared, the movement of resources to different sites began immediately, in order to respond as soon as possible to repair these properties.
Regarding the reestablishment of electric service, it was reported that the arduous work being carried out had allowed for the recovery of almost 70% of the damages, within less than 24 hours after the storm struck. Minister of Energy and Mines Liván Arronte Cruz explained that five brigades of electrical workers from the provinces of Havana and Matanzas would arrive in the next few hours to reinforce recovery efforts in this arena.
Regarding the rainfall, local authorities commented that the precipitation was mostly beneficial, especially in the municipalities of San Juan y Martínez and Isabel Rubio.
In the midst of the additional complexities in Pinar del Río created by Hurricane Ida, the President insisted that no neglect of the battle against COVID-19 in the territory can be allowed, since high levels of transmission of the disease had been noted during the last few days.
Ariel Godoy del Llano, provincial director of Public Health, commented that a decrease in the number of patients with symptoms being treated in health institutions had been observed recently, although more than 4,000 remained isolated at home on the 29th, which is a great challenge. He also referred to the vaccination program underway for those over 19 years of age in the provincial capital and at-risk groups in the other municipalities, critical to advancing protection of the people and reducing infection rates.
Rapid, well-organized work
“Work has been conducted here in an organized and rapid fashion,” the President noted during an exchange with inhabitants of La Fe, one of the main towns in the Isle of Youth special municipality, where the government team arrived shortly after noon, the day following the storm.
After touring several areas affected by Ida, the President insisted that we cannot let ourselves be defeated by the weather. This is why we request your cooperation in repairing damage within the shortest possible time, he stressed. “Now, we must mount a hurricane ourselves, of effort and determination. This is what we are calling for,” he said.
As the coronavirus continues to be a challenge, even on the Isle of Youth, where the epidemic has been successfully contained, the First Secretary asked residents to “continue to take care of yourselves, because, although you are the best in the country in confronting COVID-19 and have maintained rigorous control, you cannot lower your guard.”
In a conversation with producers, the government team found that the principal damages in this sector were to plantain, squash and papaya. There were no livestock losses at the local farms, where only the roofs of buildings were damaged. Thus far, Mayor Adiel Morera Macías reported, 136 tons of recovered produce has been sold to the population, including two tons of beans.
At midday Aug. 29, some 9,700 customers remained without electricity, especially in the areas of La Fe and La Demajagua, where 46 poles were toppled. According to estimates, by the end of the day between 90% and 95% of services would be restored in the municipality.
At the Electric Company’s headquarters, the President was informed of the reestablishment of more than 70% of services in the special municipality. In the town of Gerona, 99% of the damage had been repaired, and in La Fe, 79%. The Minister of Energy and Mines noted that, during the first hours of work, priority was given to homes and facilities that guarantee the water supply.
According to the local Intendant, the greatest residential damage was to roofing, with partial damage to 141 properties. The work of community activists in People’s Councils will ensure that all damage is identified and included in estimates.
Much remains to be done
Shortly before concluding the day on the Isle of Youth, the President commented on the characteristics that distinguished Hurricane Ida. First, he said, is that this was a storm which moved across the country in a very short period of time, meaning that the evolution to different phases of the response was rapid, demanding additional effort from leadership bodies directing the work. On the other hand, particularly in Pinar del Río, action was taken in accordance with disaster mitigation plans recently updated as a result of the pandemic.
These singularities demanded more precision, coherence and effort, he noted. And both Pinar del Río and the Isle of Youth, as well as Artemisa, which was also affected, responded quickly, he noted. “The main accomplishment was that there was no loss of human life.”
In view of the fundamental damages that occurred, especially that related to the distribution of electric energy, which were widespread in both territories, the President highlighted the speed with which repair work was undertaken.
He acknowledged the effort made to maintain health services amidst the extreme weather conditions, especially emphasizing the operation conducted to continue supplying oxygen to medical facilities during the hurricane, which required a demanding joint effort with the National Coordinating Center.
Regarding what was observed in the two territories, the President described as very important actions taken to collect solid waste on roads and in communities. We have seen an atmosphere of willingness to participate among the population, he stated.
These days also provided valuable experience, and many lessons were learned, the President said, citing the example of how damage to homes was addressed. The rapid response, he noted, contrasts with the situation prevailing in recent years, with people waiting 12 years or more for a solution, living in temporary facilities, something very stressful for the life of a family. This is an issue that we must prioritize in housing plans, even if new buildings are delayed a bit. These are things that we must take care of, and to which we must give a different vision, he said.
With satisfaction, he highlighted the preventative work done prior to the storm in the two territories, which prevented more severe consequences. There remains a great deal of work to be done, he said, adding that overcoming the hurricane’s impact requires putting our hearts into the task.
Photo Credit: Estudios Revolución