Cuba interview: being prepared for Hurricane Sandy helped us reduce losses

News from Cuba | Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Cuba was one of the places worst affected by Hurricane Sandy. Dr. Luis Foyo Ceballos, the director general of the Cuban Red Cross, talks about how they are responding to the disaster.

What has been the impact of Hurricane Sandy on people in Cuba?

For the short amount of time that the hurricane was on the island - hardly 24 hours - it caused great damage to the manmade and natural environment. It has been reported that eleven people died because their houses collapsed, but it is incredible that the numbers were not higher.

The impact is comparable to the deadly hurricane season of 2008 - when hurricanes Ike, Gustav and Hanna, and tropical storms Paloma and Fay struck the island, causing massive losses nation-wide. Although Sandy was much weaker and more localised in terms of geography, affecting just the eastern part of the country, it was relatively very destructive.

What is the Cuban Red Cross doing to help people?

The government has a very strong disaster management system, with the Cuban Red Cross as a key actor in disaster preparedness, response and recovery.

To date, the Cuban Red Cross has received 80 tonnes of humanitarian aid that will benefit 2,500 families. Items include hygiene kits, kitchen sets, tarpaulins, buckets, blankets, bed-sheets, tools and clean-up kits.

Immediate activities have included providing vital food and distributing aid items to the most affected people. We are waiting for the first shipments of zinc sheets, so shelter work so far has focussed on tarpaulin distribution.

Teams in Panama get family kits and shelter kits ready to be shipped to Cuba.

How did the Cuban Red Cross prepare for Hurricane Sandy?

There is an important link to the longer-term disaster preparedness work of the Cuban Red Cross and the government. In the Caribbean we are accustomed to frequent hurricanes - Cuba in particular is one of the most hard-hit - and very good levels of preparedness do have an impact in reducing overall losses.

Vital preparations we made prior to Sandy included evacuating people, livestock and valuables from low-lying areas that were at risk from sea and storm surges and strong winds. Around 52,000 people have not yet been able to return home because of the damage and are living with family and friends, or in community refuges and hurricane shelters.

How are Red Cross volunteers coping with the situation?

In response to the hurricane, 3,500 volunteers have been mobilised - including specialised response and relief teams in Santiago, Holguin and Guantanamo. Teams are also on stand-by from neighbouring Las Tunas and Granma.

Some of the volunteers were themselves affected - losing their homes and possessions - but continue to support other people more vulnerable than themselves.

How will the Cuban Red Cross continue to help people?

We will continue to work intensely to reach the most vulnerable, and depending on appeal coverage we will extend our activities. All funds are very gratefully received and can be used to assist more people.

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