In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma the images flowing out of Havana have been shocking. Habaneros wading through main streets near the Malecon waist-deep in rivers of water where rivers did not exist a week ago; a father pulling a child on a makeshift raft of Styrofoam; one hundred year old trees having been totally uprooted; power lines scattered throughout the cities like spaghetti; thirty foot waves crashing on the historic El Morro’s lighthouse. And now reports of at least 10 Cuban deaths further propelling Irma’s cumulative death toll throughout the Caribbean and into mainland Florida.
Cuba has been through this kind of nature’s assault before but not since 1932 has a Category 5 hurricane made landfall.
Two of the deaths occurred in Centro Havana caused when a balcony buckled under the 160 mile (260 kph) per hour winds and fell onto a local bus. Other deaths were also attributed to disintegrating architecture burying their inhabitants.
Visit Cuba contributor and photographer, Heidi Hollinger, in town putting the finishing touches on her book “300 Reasons to Love Havana” reported that the 5th Avenue tunnel connecting Vedado and Miramar was completely flooded. She also observed that the “community is getting together to clear the streets and sidewalks. Great Cuban neighbourhood mobilization at work and an amazing positive spirit prevails”.
A statement from Cuban president Raul Castro painted a grim picture “Given the immensity of its size, practically no region escaped its impact.” In rallying the nation to help one another and the country, he further stated, “The task we have before us is immense but with a people like ours, we will win the most important battle: the recovery.”
While some islands and the U.S. mainland impacted by Irma might have access to vast pools of emergency funding, Cuba’s economy, which is already reeling from a challenging year, has limited resources it can draw upon. Concerned friends and family can support the Cuban hurricane relief effort by making donations to three relief agencies that are active in Cuba. These include the International Red Cross, Oxfam and UNICEF. Each has a US or Canadian-based website upon which donors can pledge support to the island.
Furthermore, travellers who are headed to Cuban over the next twelve months can stuff their suitcases with old clothes and various other supplies to donate as they see fit upon arrival. I remember staying in a casa particular along the Malecon in 2005 a few months after Hurricane Charley (a Category 3) had hit Havana. I had brought down a few pairs of jeans to give away. I gave them to the casa’s cleaner who broke down in tears on receiving this random donation. He had lost all of his possessions in the hurricane and these were his first “new” clothes since then.
Please give generously. Every penny, every item, counts!
CARE Canada www.care.ca
A.J. Twist is a Montreal-based travel writer.