Hellish Hours for Cuba with the Passing of Hurricane Ian

Hellish Hours for Cuba with the Passing of Hurricane Ian

28 / septiembre / 2022

The eye of the hurricane entered the city of Pinar del Río around 6:30 a.m. on September 27, 2022. This time it is Ian, but the people of Pinar del Rio remember Gustav, Ike, Isidore, Lily, among others.

In the social networks some describe an apparent calm. The one that in these cases arrives before and after the storm.

“Outside the wind howls, you hear things fly. We don’t know what we’ll see when we go out on the streets tomorrow,” said a journalist from the provincial radio station.

Nelson Simon, a well-known writer from Pinar del Río, also described the uncertainty felt on Tuesday: “We are in the dark. The noise and the banging of the wind are hellish. It has stopped raining a while ago. The wind is sustained and from time to time increases its intensity. It is as if everything were shaking… When the wind picks up, you close your eyes and tighten your eyelids as if wanting to hold onto what surrounds us.”

The most recent tropical cyclone warning from the Meteorology Institute reports that “the center of Hurricane Ian made landfall around 4:30 a.m., through La Coloma in the south of Pinar del Río province, with maximum sustained winds of 205 kilometers per hour. However, associated with the transit of the eye over the province, a calm was recorded that lasted 48 minutes. Its central minimum pressure had dropped to 952 hPa and was moving north at 19 kilometers per hour.”

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The path of Hurricane Ian as charted by Insmet on Tuesday morning September 27.

In San Juan and Martínez they confirm the death of a person. “A power line caught fire and the man tried to turn it off,” explains journalist Yusley Izquierdo. In less than 24 hours, about 202 millimeters (7.6 inches) of rain have fallen.

A significant impact on light roofs was no surprise: “There are no roofs left here,” a resident tells via WhatsApp audio. Masonry houses rumbled in the wind. The doors and windows seemed not to resist. Some gave way with the wind.

Gladis Melisa Martínez’s desperate call confirmed the sadness of what was happening: “Please, I need help. Somebody call the fire department or the police, we couldn’t reach them. My house is in front of the polyclinic, next to the Maternity Hospital. The house above. The entire roof blew off, we are with my girl in the closet. We cannot go out because of the trees.” At dawn on Tuesday, it was learned that the family had been able to take shelter in a neighbor’s house.

“In San Luis the storm has surely finished with what little there was,” Olga Lidia Torres dares to affirm, about what she has heard and experienced during the early morning hours.

In Pinar del Río nobody slept. Who can sleep through this? They don’t dare to go out either. Now they wait in the dark early Tuesday for the storm to blow over. Windows with boards crossed so that the wind does not open them, bags of sand and earth on the roofs to prevent a gust of wind from lifting them, electrical equipment on high ground so that they are not damaged by floods.

The El Toque team confirmed that several areas of Pinar del Río do not have Internet or mobile phone access. “Here even walls have fallen,” says an interviewee. Elevated water tanks have also been among the most affected structures.

Now it isn’t raining, but the wind continues very strong. The dawn sky will be white, like sunrises after a hurricane. There will be no trees or plants standing. The streets will be filled with rubble.

The people of Pinar del Río know perfectly well what measures they must take in the event of a hurricane warning, not because they have experienced and repeated this numerous times, but because it reduces the damage that weighs more heavily on a tired people. There are still people affected by previous cyclones, who lost their homes and belongings, until today, irrecoverable.

Ian was moving slow when the sun rose in the west of the island. It was furious with La Coloma. It still has some way to go until it moves away from the north coast and some wonder “why this punishment from nature. As if everything that Cuba already suffers has not been enough.”

Prayers, prayers, requests for mercy, promises… Pinar del Río residents do not know who to entrust themselves to. They ask that there be no loss of human lives, but they know that material losses, in tense moments of scarcity, will be significant. The future will be even harder.

The Isle of Youth

Further south, on the Isle of Youth, people also suffered winds of more than 110 km/h. The damage is not yet quantifiable, but the images shared on networks show a bleak picture: fallen trees, raised roofs, collapsed structures, floods.

There, starting early Monday afternoon, the weather conditions began to deteriorate, and several places were left without electricity.

Numerous people with vulnerable homes – made of wood and thatched roofs – were evacuated and sheltered in the homes of relatives.

The provincial station Radio Caribe suffered damage to the roof of the lobby, according to its workers. In the shared video it is possible to appreciate the strong winds.

Photos of fallen trees and branches (but not much more damage) can be seen in the areas near the Heroes del Baire Hospital, located in Nueva Gerona.

árbol caído huracán

A fallen tree. Photo: Taken from the Facebook profile of Gerardo Mayet Cruz.

According to Insmet, the Cuban Meteorology Service, at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday some of the most significant rain accumulations reported were in the “Cuba-France Friendship” meteorological stations with 148.7 millimeters, 134.4 millimeters in La Fe and 121.0 millimeters in Punta del Este, all in the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud.

By dawn Tuesday it stopped raining on the Isle of Youth and the gusts of wind were not felt, but the news is still limited. Journalist Gerardo Mayet reported on his networks: “there is no electricity [since Monday] and many do not have a charge on their mobile phones. With improved weather the Municipal Defense Council can visit the remote areas. Here in my radius of action (Nueva Gerona) I don’t see much damage. I suppose to the south and in La Fe, yes.”

The social networks, communicators profiles, and local press media remain, for the most part, without updating. The latest posts date from 13 hours ago. The last message from the well-known journalist Yuliet Perez (La Yuli de Cuba), a resident of La Fe, was at dawn: “What fear… outside everything roars and rattles.”

When there is no danger, the residents of Pinar del Río, Isla de la Juventud, and the rest of western Cuba, hit by the “other” tragedy, will take to the streets. Surely, we will see the available aid arrive there, the help sent in a symbolic way by the Cubans who were able to sleep.

Meanwhile, some will continue to wonder what we have done to deserve this. Others, more positive, will question: now what do we do?

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.
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Si crees que nuestro periodismo es relevante para Cuba y su pueblo, queremos que sepas que este es un momento crítico.

Detrás de cada publicación hay un equipo que se esmera porque nuestros productos cumplan altos estándares de calidad y se apeguen a los valores profesionales y éticos.

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Tú puedes contribuir con nuestra misión y por eso hoy solicitamos tu ayuda. Selecciona la vía que prefieras para hacernos llegar una contribución.

Yerys M. García
Licenciada en Periodismo por la Universidad de La Habana (2014). Master en Comunicación para el Desarrollo y Cambio Social por la Universidad de Sussex en Reino Unido (2018). Investigadora en temas de comunicación para el desarrollo y y cambio social.
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Glenda Boza Ibarra
Cubana, seguidora de los Santamaría. Periodista, apasionada, con defectos, siempre intentando ser justa.
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