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AFTERMATH OF HURRICANE IRMA IN CUBA

September 16-18, 2017

General Situation

Thirteen of Cuba’s 15 provinces were hit by Hurricane Irma, the first category-5 storm to barrel through since 1932. The north-central coastal regions and keys bore the brunt, and because of the size of Irma, Havana wasn’t spared. Long stretches of the seaside Malecón wall were simply washed away with adjacent streets, homes, businesses and hospitals caught in the rushing waters.

 

Damages were most severe in central Cuba, home to 2.3 million Cubans, and in parts of Havana, home to 2.2 million.

 

87% of the population affected now has both electricity and water.  No outbreaks of infectious diseases are reported, and cleanup is prioritized in both the capital and hardest-hit central provinces. Food processing centers are operating in all these provinces, and cooked food is being distributed in shelters (where 26,000 remain of the 1.7 evacuees) and in areas without electricity.

 

Teaching activities have resumed throughout the country as of September 18, with some damaged schools already repaired and in other cases, classes moved to other facilities, including homes.

 

Agriculture and the environment were seriously damaged (see below).

PAHO is working with the Ministry of Public Health to identify and prioritize recovery needs, an assessment that MEDICC and Global Links will use to decide what supplies, furnishings and equipment is most needed.

 

Hotels in Havana are open, and most in Varadero.

Havana Irma Recovery School
Schoolchildren on Monday, September 18, in newly repainted school near Havana’s shoreline.

Medical Services

The country: 70% of hospitals and polyclinics in the seven hardest-hit provinces suffered damages: 53 hospitals, 96 community polyclinics, 1958 family doctor-and-nurse neighborhood offices and 139 other facilities, such as senior homes and maternity homes.

 

In Havana alone, 38 hospitals were damaged, as well as 45 of 82 polyclinics, especially those near the shoreline. Women and infants at the America Arias Maternity Hospital were moved to safety at other hospitals and the Hermanos Ameijeiras Hospital was evacuated when its water supply was contaminated by seawater (see photo).

 

These two hospitals remain the only ones still not in full operation, with the Ameijeiras Hospital suffering loss of equipment in clinical laboratory, imaging, ambulatory surgery and other services.

 

The main damages to health facilities in the rest of the country are due to loss of roofing, broken windows, and flooding. Both furnishings and equipment have been destroyed or damaged. In Cienfuegos, although not all services have been re-established, the Gustavo Aldereguia Lima Provincial Hospital (a WHO/PAHO Collaborating Center) is providing emergency care and has received youngsters from the evacuated Provincial Pediatric Hospital.

 

UNFPA is providing assistance to women of reproductive age in the 14 municipalities most affected, and particular attention to the 2,300 pregnant women due to give birth before year’s end.

 

PAHO is working with the Ministry of Public Health to identify and prioritize recovery needs, an assessment that MEDICC and Global Links will use to decide what supplies, furnishings and equipment is most needed. The PAHO/WHO emergency fund is providing immediate relief with medications, chlorine tablets for water purification and other supplies.

Health  & Hygiene

No outbreaks of infectious diseases have been reported in any evacuation centers or provinces affected. The Ministry of Public Health has issued a call to reinforce hygiene measures, including use of water-purification chlorine tablets now available in all pharmacies.  Over 10,000 medical students and 2,000 other university students have joined some 34,000 workers in cleanup efforts in Havana alone over the weekend…and neighbors are still at work cleaning their homes and streets.

 

Sanitation trucks are making 1,000 trips daily to rid the capital of solid waste, and hundreds of trucks are dumping tree branches and other plants into an ECOLOGICAL DUMPSITE, habilitated for later recycling.

 

Efforts are being made to increase production and availability of detergents, soap and other hygiene products.

 

In other provinces, a comprehensive sanitation strategy is being implemented, guaranteeing supplies of household water by railroad and truck tanks in areas where electricity has not yet been restored.

Truck Convoy Irma Recovery
A convoy of dozens of trucks rumble into Havana pre-dawn, September 18, to collect trees, branches and other organic waste
One of the small towns hardest hit, Ciego de Avila Province Foto: Osvaldo Gutiérrez - ACN

Housing, Buildings, Roads

Some 64,000 homes were damaged, either completely or partially, as roofs blew off and some older buildings simply collapsed, affecting 190,000 people. Some 1.7 million people were evacuated. Of the island’s 10,000 schools, over 500 were used as shelters, and other buildings and homes received evacuees.

 

About 26,000 people remain in shelters or neighbors’ homes. Thousands of construction workers plus the Armed Forces have been mobilized to clear streets and highways of fallen trees and other debris, and to begin repairs on roads, causeways, schools, health centers and homes. The Minister of Construction reports that the cement and roofing-tile industries are working at full capacity to support the effort.

Food

Over 185,000 acres of food croplands were damaged, including plantations of banana, tubers, grains, vegetables and fruit trees. Production of eggs and pork are also seriously affected, due to serious damages to chicken and pig farms.

 

The food industry is in full swing, and basic foodstuffs are now assured—rice, beans, etc. In some areas, such as Central Havana, tents have been mounted to serve low-priced hot meals to residents, and those in shelters receive free meals.

 

In addition, the government, FAO, the World Food Program (WFP) and other international emergency aid are also focusing on food security. The WFP has designated $1.5 million in emergency funds, guaranteeing food to 664,000 persons for one month, part of a $5.7 million in urgent assistance pledged by the agency. It is also working with Cuban authorities to reinforce food rations in the most affected territories, from Camaguey to Matanzas Provinces, for the next four months. Additional food purchases are expected, as international donations arrive.

Havana Irma Recovery
David Beasley, Executive Director of the World Food Program (and former governor of South Carolina, USA, visits Jaimanitas community on western Havana shore.

Electricity, Water, Communications

Severe damage was reported to the country’s entire electrical grid, at one point electricity generation reaching zero. Water pumps, dependent on electricity, also stopped working, except in vital services such as hospitals. Phone and Internet installations were damaged.

 

Electricity has been restored in 87% of the areas hit by the storm: from a high of nearly 100% in Granma Province to lows of 39% in Villa Clara Province and 52% in Ciego de Avila Province, where Irma hit full force. In Havana, over 90% of neighborhoods now have lights. Along with lights, comes water.

 

Those without tap water are being supplied by truck, and the Ministry of Public Health is urging families to make sure their drinking water is safe by using the chlorine tablets being distributed.

 

Electrical linemen and others from the telephone company are at work in the seven most-damaged provinces, where all services are expected to be in operation within one month. Currently, 77% of the telephone system has been repaired.

 

Finally, 90 oil wells, now being repaired, were also damaged by the heavy winds and storm surges along the northern coast of Cuba.

Education

Teaching activities have resumed throughout the country as of September 18, with some damaged schools already repaired and in other cases, classes moved to other facilities, including homes.

 

Thousands of university students have been mobilized to assist in cleanup efforts over the weekend.

Environment

Over 60,000 birds were lost to Hurricane Irma, including 500 pink flamingos and high mortality of anthropods, iguanas and terrestrial mollusks. In the Ecological Center and West Cayo Coco Reserve in the key of the same name were particularly hard hit.

 

This, in addition to destruction of trees and other animal habitats across central Cuba and Havana.

 

No losses were reported in any of the country’s zoos or aquariums. Authorities were able to helicopter six dolphins to safety just before the storm hit, the female pregnant.

Dolphins Havana Irma Recovery
Dolphins on their way to safety
Melia Cohiba Havana Irma
Melia Cohiba Hotel operating on Havana’s seaside drive.

International Tourism

International Tourism

Several airports were closed as Irma swept through Cuba. Over 45,000 tourists were vacationing in resorts along the northern coast and keys.  In two keys alone, some 10,000 were evacuated, with no deaths reported among travelers.

 

All airports in Havana and major cities are fully functioning, as well as most hotels in Havana and Varadero.  Repairs to the rest of the travel infrastructure are expected to be completed by December 1, when high tourist season moves into gear.