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Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

Hurricane Irma in Alamar and Cojimar

September 18, 2017 |

Photo feature by Irina Echarry

This dock area didn’t resist the fury of Irma.

HAVANA TIMES — Some people were pruning trees on Saturday morning, even in the afternoon, just a couple of hours before Hurricane Irma swept through the closest point to the capital. Nevertheless, people were walking on the street as if there wasn’t any imminent danger. People didn’t seem to be very worried.

The myth that we are very prepared for these kinds of events here in Cuba has clouded Cuban people’s judgements. We are used to suffering at the hands of hurricanes and Civil Defense troops, who, with all of the power in their hands, prevent this damage from being worse; nobody doubts that.

But, being prepared is another thing. When the time comes to secure your belongings, you can’t find a board or nails or useful candles; items which need to be available on the market a long time before hurricane season begins. Add to this, the poor condition of housing in the country.

In Alamar, no buildings collapsed, within my knowledge, nor did balconies collapse and there weren’t any strong sea surges; although the wind did beat against homes with great force. You could hear the sound of glass breaking – at least one face was cut by broken glass – window panes were removed from their frames by the wind and now only a curtain hangs in its place; electricity cables fell down, trees were uprooted and are now used by children in their games; water tank covers were blown off, as were antennas and tin roofs.

A truck of the electric company.

People in Alamar talk about a man who hung himself on the 7th floor of a 12-story building and firemen had to do magic to get the corpse out, as there wasn’t any electricity within the area. This man doesn’t figure among those dead because of Hurricane Irma, but he did die while the hurricane winds swept through Havana.

Some of us didn’t have electricity for a week, without knowing why exactly it was that some buildings had it and others didn’t. Nobody picked up the phone at the Electricity Company, you had to physically go there to find out what was happening. And we got by.

A week after the hurricane swept through, a car with a loud speaker travels through the neighborhood’s streets, a phony voice reminds us that “the Homeland belongs to everybody, the revolution belongs to everybody” and that we have to go out and “clean the streets and help with repair work.”  A lot of people are asking themselves where these cars were when they were unsure about the electricity outage. “We’re not going to sit here with our arms crossed, how shameless they are!” a lady shouted. And that’s because people have been waiting for a truck from Communal Services since last Sunday, when we collected garbage together among ourselves and cleaned the streets.

The government opened kiosks to sell cooked food at affordable prices; other places sell soft drinks and canned food. Private kiosks are buying soft drinks in bulk and reselling them for twice the price, nobody is controlling them. Agro-markets have some produce, but they aren’t of a very good quality, although prices are still affordable. People take green plantains and exclaim: “enjoy it now, take photos, there will be generations of Cubans who won’t know what this is.” In private agro-markets, a pound of beans costs 25 pesos, just like onions do and papaya costs 6 pesos per pound; a small pineapple costs 10 pesos, local lemons still cost 1 peso and other lemons cost 3.

Cojimar’s malecon seawall was severly damaged.

In Cojimar, the sea did surge with great force and flooded inland for about four blocks. It dragged several electricity posts that were already on the ground – which nobody thought to remove before the hurricane – along with it. These posts knocked down walls and burst into some homes because of Irma’s force.

A week after the hurricane, these posts are still in the same place they were. Neighbors have called the Communal Services company, the Electric Company, the National Assembly of People’s Power… and nothing.

The Cojimar malecon’s seawall suffered serious damage, as well as the emblematic breakwater barrier, and the street next to the Castle – opposite Hemingway’s statue. Likewise, La Costa, that night club known for so many bloody fights among young people, hardly exists anymore, only the entrance walls remain standing.

Several homes collapsed entirely and many more partially collapsed. Several buses had evacuated people on Saturday morning, others went to their neighbors’ homes that were further inland, nobody died. Streets filled with rubble, clothes, furniture and a great deal of sadness, although they are already quite clean now.

In Alamar, people carry on like always: shouting, laughing, playing and talking. People in Cojimar, however, feel that their town has suffered and they suffer along with it.

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