Disasters & Accidents

Cleanup under way in Cuba after rains that left 3 dead

By Juan Palop

San Juan y Martinez, Cuba, Jun 4 (EFE).- Three fatalities, houses rendered uninhabitable, and damage to crops were some of the effects Cubans confronted Saturday after a tropical disturbance dumped up to 300 mm (nearly a foot) of rain in western and central areas of the island.

“Look at the little mark I made here. That’s where the water was,” Jose Luis Perez told Efe, pointing to a spot on the front of his modest home in San Juan y Martinez, a village in Cuba’s western-most province of Pinar del Rio.

The mark was nearly a meter (3.27 ft) above the ledge of the single window of the two-room structure constructed of concrete block on a narrow strip between an earthen path and the Cuyaguateje River.

The village received 177 mm of rain in the space of just three hours Friday morning.

Perez, 25, said that he realized early Friday with the water at ankle-level “When I got up Friday the water reached my ankle,” the 25-year-old Perez recounted, explaining his decision to have his wife and their young daughter leave for a safer location as he set about securing as much as he could.

On Saturday, the couple’s bed – piled high with possessions – remained suspended from the rafters with towels.

But not all of Perez’s precautions were successful.

“I had the microwave on the table. I thought the water wouldn’t reach the table and when I looked I saw the water was halfway up the microwave,” he said while cleaning.

Two doors away is Odani Peña, a long-time resident whose response to recurring floods was to put his house on a pedestal more than a meter high.

And the precaution paid off on this occasion, as the interior of the home he shares with wife Regla Cantun and their two small sons remained dry.

Odani mentions that a nearby shed where tobacco was stored collapsed from the rains, raising the question of how much damage was done to the crop.

Pinar del Rio accounts for around 65 percent of Cuba’s annual production of tobacco, the island’s fourth-leading export by value, generating $507 million in hard currency earnings in 2020.

The disturbance that brought all the rain to Cuba formed from the remnants of Hurricane Agatha, the first named storm of the 2022 Pacific season, which is blamed for nine deaths in Mexico.

The United States National Hurricane Center forecasts that the disturbance, now east of Florida, will become the first named storm of the Atlantic season.

Cuba’s Meteorological Institute has forecast a “very active” season with 17 named storms, including nine hurricanes.

While two of last year’s seven hurricanes – Elsa and Ida – affected Cuba, they caused relatively minor damage.

The last major storm to strike Cuba was Hurricane Irma, which raked the northern coast of the island from one end to the other in 2017, leaving 10 people dead and material losses estimated at $13.18 billion. EFE jpm/dr

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