HAVANA TIMES — Historically, October has been a month of heavy rains in Guantanamo, and we thank God for this, however it has also produced high intensity hurricanes and we had hoped that this would change.
The last hurricane we had was Sandy, which caused widespread damage in the East in 2012, especially Santiago de Cuba, where it passed through the city center, as well as in Holguin and Guantanamo. Overall economic losses figured in the many millions and hundreds of people in these three provinces lost their homes, although they weren’t left out in the cold.
This is why people have begun to worry and take precautions when they heard on Thursday that Matthew strengthened from being a storm into a Category 1 Hurricane [now it is a Catergory 4] with great potential of passing through the country’s far eastern provinces.
The first thing we have to do is to keep ourselves updated by every media channel we can (at least this is what I’ve always heard). Unfortunately, very few people have access to the internet at home and therefore are unable to follow online forecasts on websites which are very accurate and are updated 24 hours a day; all we can do is follow reports and information broadcast on national TV.
The second thing we should do, according to people I interviewed for this piece, is to secure our homes, read here roofs of homes, electrical appliances, building materials, workshops or businesses, as well as animals and farms. For an average Cuban, losing a mattress, a TV or any other belonging can be a great misfortune, just imagine if it’s a house.
According to Martha, one of the neighbors I questioned to find out what measures were being taken while we await the arrival of this weather phenomenon, “we have to hide away our personal belongings real good, because the State takes a very serious view to ensure that no human lives are lost and so they evacuate people whose houses are in poor condition or in an area at risk of flooding, and of course, people are healthy and safe at the end of the day, but what about their belongings?”.
“The Government takes great care to protect vital resources for the Cuban economy and people, as well as to minimize possible losses in warehouses, stores, in agriculture, and to keep livestock in high-raised areas. However, it’s your personal responsibility to secure your own belongings, because life is the most sacred and important thing we have, however, our belongings are too becuase we all know just how much it costs for us to be able to get anything here in Cuba,” she says.
Pedro Rafael, another neighbor aged 70 years old, tells me that nothing is more important that food supplies, and that when you find yourself in a situation like this, when you don’t know how long it could be or the real damage it could cause, the best thing to do is have the most amount of food you can stock up, so that you don’t have to leave your house while it’s raining or windy to go and look for something to eat, not to mention that immediately after a hurricane passes by, you can’t find anything to eat anyway. “This almost always happens,” he assures me and continues on in his search for food supplies that can last several days such as root vegetables, salted crackers, syrup, powdered milk, sugar and other things.
Pedro doesn’t know that as of today, Saturday morning, there aren’t any state-run stores selling salted crackers in Cuban pesos (one of the most coveted products in these kinds of situations), there isn’t any syrup either. Since a few days ago, Cubans have been looking for food resources for an accessible price and that keep for several days.
Without a doubt, human lives are the most important things at stake here, many people agree with this because they live in run-down houses and they say they’d leave if they had to, without caring about the belongings they might leave behind, “at the end of the day, what am I going to do with a refrigerator or a TV if I’m dead?” says Adela, a woman with a raspy voice and a heavy foot.
“I always have a bag with all of my medicines and a bottle of water, if the worst comes, I’ll grab my bag and go running,” says Abilio, an obese, diabetic, man with high blood pressure with I don’t know how many more chronic diseases, however, in spite of showing little interest in his material belongings, he asked his two nephews to help him secure the roof.
A 10-year-old boy who I asked how they were preparing for Matthew in his home told me that everyone was calm, as his house is made of tin and they have nothing to be afraid of, however, he did wish that the hurricane stayed about for a couple of days so that he wouldn’t have to go to school. I prayed to God that he wouldn’t hear this wish.
People in Guantanamo are taking many precautions in the lead up to the hurricane’s arrival. Their first instinct is to secure their roofs, as well as doors and windows, as 70% of homes in this province are in a poor state and nobody wants to lose as much as a needle. Somebody fastens down some roofing tiles on one side, while another person puts bags of sand on the other. A lady asks some friends to take down a zinc roof from the backyard until the hurricane passes, so as not to lose it, like she did when Sandy came.
Some people run to supermarkets, squares or hard-currency stores to buy food so as to ensure they have food supplies at home, mainly for children and the elderly. Only a few find what they’re looking for, the majority have to make do with what there is, because at the end of the day this isn’t the time to choose.
People boil liters and liters of water or store it without boiling in secure places so they can at least ensure they have some water. The majority of people buy coal or kerosene in case of a blackout, as well as candles.
Many also clean out the drains, because their houses flood with just three drops of water. Others decide to cut down branches plants that have been bothering them for quite some time, but that nobody has had time to prune.
Local authorities give instructions on the mass media, instructing locals on how to keep safe. They ask to comply with well-known precautionary measures, but which are sometimes forgotten, such as not to touch fallen electricity poles, not to cross overflowing rivers, not to leave our homes while the hurricane is passing us by, or to leave our homes if there is the risk that it might collapse or if it’s in a poor state, and many others that we should all follow.
They’ve just announced the latest news on Matthew on the midday news report. We people in Guantanamo had hoped that the phenomenon would have taken a route further to the West (of course, we would prefer that it didn’t have to pass through any province), however, forecasts have indicated yet again that it’s coming straight for us.
We have no other choice, people, according to their personal means and situations, people are trying to protect themselves and to have a supply of the most essential resources, and last but not least, are praying to God, the Virgin Mary, Obatala or whoever they can so that what happened with Sandy doesn’t take place.