Overwhelming response to Hurricane Irma appeal

Autumn 2017

More than £52,000 raised to help Cuba recover from one of the worst storms in living memory

Between 8-10 October, a category 5 storm tore along 800 kilometres of Cuba’s northern coast. 250 km/h winds and waves up to nine metres high smashed up homes, crops, resorts, airports, schools, hospitals, water storage and power stations.

Hurricane Irma was the worst to strike Cuba in living memory. Unlike previous storms where damage had been limited to specific areas, Hurricane Irma hit 13 out of the country’s 16 provinces, making its impact felt across the entire island for more than 72 hours.

From Camagüey to Artemisa, more than 10.5 million people (93.7 per cent of the country’s population) were on Hurricane Alert, 1.7 million of them were evacuated to shelters or the homes of relatives or friends.

Reports indicate that 158,554 homes were affected: 14,657 were totally destroyed; 16,646 partially; while 23,560 lost their entire roofs and 103,691 suffered some roof damage. On top of severe damage to homes, people have also lost basic necessities such as mattresses, kitchen utensils, furniture and hygiene items.

Critical damage to the electrical power supply and the loss of tanks and water collection systems - both in homes and institutions – impacted on the water supply of 3.1 million people.

Coastal communities have been devastated by winds and flooding. Many were without water for many days and without electricity as central power stations sustained major damage.

The storm destroyed the airport at Cayo Coco, a major tourist destination and damaged several of the islands acclaimed marine ecosystems, threatening both the environment and sources of income related to nature tourism.

President Raúl Castro issued a statement on Sunday 10 September which said that tourist resorts would be restored before the start of the peak season in November: "We have the necessary human and material resources, as one of the main sources of income for the national economy.

"These have been hard days for our people, who in only a few hours have seen how everything we have built with great effort has been struck down by a devastating hurricane. The pictures of the last hours are eloquent, as is the spirit of resistance and victory of our people who are reborn with every adversity," he added.

Authorities and communities worked around the clock to restore electricity, water supplies and reopen schools which were also affected. On Wednesday 13 September, power had been restored to 70 per cent of the country. However, in the worst affected areas of Matanzas, Villa Clara and Ciego de Avila, up to 70 per cent of buildings were still without power three days after the storm.

Efforts were made to ensure classes were not disrupted, even if that meant using alternative sites  while schools were repaired.  More than 1,500 schools, including 500 in the Cuban capital, will need various levels of repair.

Health services were also severely affected, with damages sustained to around 70 per cent of hospitals and polyclinics in the worst affected municipalities.

Providing access and increasing production of building materials has been prioritised, including giving powers to provincial Defence Councils to prioritise their distribution to those affected by the hurricane. The government is subsidising retail prices on basic goods including mattresses, hygiene products and cooking equipment, and providing loans and donations where needed.

The storm surge pushed seawater half a kilometre inland in some places, taking rubbish and sewage with it. Cuban authorities announced that ten people had died as a result of the storm, mainly from collapsing buildings in Havana. This was a high number compared to previous hurricanes, but much lower than the 36 people who died in the US, no doubt as a result of Cuba’s formidable hurricane preparedness programmes which have won praise from the United Nations as “a model in hurricane risk management.” Last year’s Hurricane Matthew didn’t kill anyone in Cuba, although it killed 271 people in nearby Haiti. In advance of Irma, one million Cubans were evacuated to shelters and higher ground for protection.

Ironically, the deluge of water may help stave off the drought that had been afflicting many on the island. Rainfall for September shot up to 137 per cent on the monthly average, and reservoirs now hold 68.4 per cent of full capacity, compared to the perilously low levels Cuba was experiencing during its worst drought for 100 years before.

In the midst of its own tragedy, Cuba still found the time to continue its humanitarian support for other countries by sending 750 Cuban health workers to other islands affected by Hurricane Irma, including Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Haiti, Saint Kitts & Nevis, Saint Lucia, and the Bahamas.

More than 300,000 hectares of sugar cane plantations have been affected, mostly in Camagüey, Ciego de Ávila, Villa Clara, and Matanzas with up to 30 per cent of the plants ruined in some areas. Communities have set to work harvesting and collecting what can be salvaged and distributed. Short cycle crops are also being sown with the aim of supplying these products to the population as soon as possible.

The Cuban ambassador to the UK , Teresita Vicente said that solidarity would be important over the coming months, since recovery efforts would be hindered by the impact of the US blockade: “The blockade makes it more difficult to recover but the spirit of the Cuban people is the same as it has been when we face many adversities.”

The ambassador reminded people that Cuba was also suffering from “Hurricane Trump” as the US increases its “aggressive policy” toward the country. Just as Irma was about to hit, President Trump quietly extended the blockade for another year by signing the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Immediately following the hurricane CSC launched an appeal to raise funds for recovery work. Within 24 hours more than £15,000 had been raised, mainly through small donations via our website in response to an email appeal. Several people commented that they were driven to donate out of anger at the lack of media reporting on the impact of the hurricane in Cuba, compared to the wall to wall press coverage that preparations for the storm’s arrival in Florida were receiving.

Donations have come from all over the country, from a few pounds to more than £1,000; from individuals and local CSC groups to trade unions from branch to national level; fundraising parties by salsa groups. Every donation has helped to reach the amazing total of over £52,000, more than in any previous appeal.

“Political solidarity is very important but also this appeal is vital and will help to alleviate the difficulties faced by the Cuban people,” said the Cuban ambassador.

Thank you to everyone who has donated to CSC's Hurricane Irma Appeal. An amazing £52,000 has been raised to date (17 October) all of which will be sent to Cuba to help with relief and recovery projects.

CSC sends its solidarity to the Cuban people in the mammoth task they have ahead to rebuild their communities. We call once again for the US government to end its inhumane blockade of the country so that the Cuban people can access the building materials and equipment they will need to rebuild their country following this tragedy.

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