Devastation in Cuba Following Hurricane Sandy

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Aaron Schachter: The cleanup from Hurricane Sandy continues not just in New York and New Jersey, but in the Caribbean as well. Cuba was among the nations hit hard by Sandy — the storm ripped through the island's south-east killing 11 people. It destroyed more than 200,000 homes, and knocked out power to Cuba's second largest city, Santiago. Two weeks later authorities are still struggling to cope. The BBC's Sarah Rainsford traveled today to the town of Siboney near Santiago. Earlier, via cellphone, she told us what she saw there.

Sarah Rainsford: It's a really devastating scene here — I'm looking at buildings which have gone completely, there's just a couple of bits of brick left behind, and furniture — a chair in the middle of one pile of bricks for example. At the building I'm standing next to now it still has the walls but no roof — there's a tangled mass of metal at the front of it. Huge trees that have been smashed to the ground and are just lying there, lots of others that have been chopped up already that are ready for removal. And the sea wall — very badly damaged- and the road here has disappeared almost completely in front of me. So this area, Siboney, right on the coast where the storm entered Cuba — people have pretty much moved out of here, because there's nothing left to live in.

Schachter: So people are mostly gone. Are there cleanup crews there?

Rainsford: Yeah, there's a huge cleanup operation underway. I mean, we've seen teams of electricians everywhere we look along the roads trying to get the lamp-posts back up, trying to restore electricity to people. It's two weeks now since the hurricane hit, and last night when we entered Santiago, there was already a lot of power restored to the city itself — you could see lights on on many of the buildings throughout the city. But some of the smaller villages that we entered didn't have electricity.

Schachter: And how does what you're seeing there compare to what you see in Havana.

Rainsford: Havana wasn't affected at all — this was a hurricane that hit the east of the island. It swept through Santiago Province, Guantanamo, HolguÃ? ­n — those are the areas that were really badly affected. And I think one of the reasons that people here were hit so hard is that it's not an area that is normally accustomed to suffering hurricanes; the west of the island is much more used to this kind of storm. And perhaps that's one reason why so many people died — 11 people died, including a 4 month old baby. It's a very small numbered compared to Haiti or compared even to the United States, but for Cuba that's an awful lot. This country does pride itself on a very organized civil defense system, a very strong obligatory evacuation system, so 11 people dying here in Cuba is obviously very serious, and perhaps it's because this area, Santiago, isn't really used to this kind of storm.

Schachter: Now, the UN's World Food Program has pledged to bring in aid to Cuba. Have you seen any evidence yet of the international aid making its way there?

Rainsford: I haven't seen it myself, but I do know that it's happening — not so much from the UN yet, but certainly from Venezuela. They have sent several dozens of tons of food aid; there's been construction materials coming in from Russia, as well; I believe Bolivia has sent a plane-load of food and aid to Cuba. So, quite a lot coming in, given that this is a poor country at the best of times, and here in Santiago these are not the best of times, so certainly any aid that is coming in is extremely welcome here.

Schachter: In general it does sound like Cuba and rescue efforts are going pretty well.

Rainsford: It does. If you read the state media here obviously the focus is very much on the revolutionary spirit, the unity of the people, and how everyone is working extremely hard to get the country back up and running. You could be cynical about that, but actually down here on the ground it is what you see. I've met some people whose houses were damaged who said during the night of the hurricane they were extremely frightened, that they were crying, as the storm hit, but they are very grateful for the way that the Cuban recovery services, and the military as well, are working together with volunteers to try to restore things here, to get things back to normal.

Schachter: The people who lost their houses because of Hurricane Sandy — where are they now?

Rainsford: Well what we've been told by the locals here is, in this area, is that many of them are living with family, moved in with relatives, moved in with neighbors. I did speak to one person last night who said they had three neighbors living with them because their houses had been damaged. There aren't people in tents or sleeping under the stars, so there's not that kind of situation here; it's sort of all hands on deck.

Schachter: Sarah Rainsford is the BBC's Cuba correspondent, she is in Santiago right now, a region hard hit in Cuba by Hurricane Sandy. Sarah, thank you so much.

Rainsford: No problem. Thank you.