Hurricane Irma devastated the Caribbean when it tore through the area the weekend of Sept. 7 through Sept. 11. Irma made landfall in Cuba late Friday, Sept. 8 as a Category 5 storm. It was the first Category 5 storm to hit Cuba in decades. The eye of the storm passed over the northeastern side of Cuba and battered the island for hours. The fishing village of Caibarién and outlying keys on the eastern edge of the island, like Cayo Coco, bore the brunt of the storm.
In an attempt to limit loss of life and injury, about one million people were evacuated before the storm, including tens of thousands of tourists. Still, the storm and its after-effects killed 10 people and caused monumental physical damage. No major injuries were reported outside of the fatalities.
Storm surges partially engulfed northern villages and left entire communities homeless. Trees and telegraph poles collapsed throughout the island, making communication with remote towns increasingly difficult. In Havana, the streets flooded up a street about six blocks from the shore that people often use as a reference point in the city. At the shore, water and debris came over a seawall and contributed to the devastation.
Street flooding prompted emergency services to go from home to home on boats to rescue the elderly and sick. Havana’s cherished neighborhood of Vedado was underwater for days. Additional damage included large power outages in Havana and in the central province of Camaguey. It could take weeks for power to be restored, and the government says it is working around the clock to restore major transmission and power lines.
Despite the damage in Havana, the storm only skimmed the city. The cities under the eye of the storm, Caibarién and Cayo Coco, experienced more extensive devastation. The roof of the international airport in Cayo Coco caved in during the storm.
The aid and relief efforts will take weeks, if not months, to mitigate the devastation. Food and water are in low supply; the United Nations’ preliminary report suggested that 3.1 million Cubans did not have running water after the storm. As of Sept. 18, some 26,000 people were in shelters. The Cuban government agreed to finance 50 percent of the cost of materials to rebuild or repair homes Irma damaged, yet the details of this arrangement are unclear and could leave significant cost on the victims of the hurricane.
The Cuban government has refused aid from large, American-based charity organizations in the past, for political reasons, so little U.S.-based aid is available to Cuba. Cuba’s main need is food. However, the Cuban government would need to approve any food shipments from American organizations. To receive aid from the U.S., Cuba must request help, which the nation has yet to do. The American organizations Catholic Charities and the Cuban American National Foundation are raising funds to help Cuba, but the strict travel restrictions make other kinds of aid difficult. Because of the U.S. embargo on Cuba, the island is not able to join the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, both of which would provide infrastructure loans.
Venezuela’s government sent 7.3 tons of humanitarian aid to Cuba. The U.N. is providing large amounts of food, roofs, mattresses and other necessities
Photo Courtesy of ABC News.