Disasters & Accidents

Mud, horror and hope in Cuban village slammed by Hurricane Ian

By Laura Becquer

La Coloma, Cuba, Oct 15 (EFE).- Benito Perez Rodriguez, 59, continues to clear mud from what used to be his home in this village on Cuba’s southwestern coast that was pounded by Hurricane Ian.

“I was in the (1975-1991) Angola war. I was a firefighter and forest ranger here,” he tells EFE as he labors amid the wreckage, getting moral support from two aging dogs he adopted years ago.

All that remains of the house are four columns of “good” wood, two rusty refrigerators and a sofa that “has survived several cyclones.”

“The water took the rest. I have not seen anything like it since I’ve been living here, from 1986,” he says, looking back on his time in La Coloma, a community of 7,000 people in the province of Pinar del Rio.

The day before Ian made landfall here, Perez Rodriguez and his family, including a 6-year-old grandson, evacuated to a nearby school serving as a shelter.

“The care has been very good. The food as well. At least I’m not complaining,” he says.

Once the storm passed, Benito, who is determined to rebuild, began making daily trips to the house to salvage what he can.

Authorities estimate that 100,000 homes in Pinar del Rio suffered damage from Ian, of which nearly 10,500 were leveled.

Benito’s was one of a cluster of wooden homes on the inlet from where boats venture out to fish for lobster and other sea life. The residents know the risk and are accustomed to storms, Olga Lidia Suarez Romero tells EFE, “but never like this.”

“My house is destroyed. It left us with nothing. My pregnant daughter-in-law and my son would have drowned if not for the church pastor who swam in and brought us out one-by-one,” she recounts.

They had chosen to remain in the house to “protect their things,” 53-year-old Olga says. The family of Rosa Montalban, which includes a wheelchair-bound adolescent, made the same decision, only to be rescued from the chest-high water at the height of the storm.

All of Cuba was plunged into darkness when Ian came ashore with maximum sustained winds of 200 km/h (120 mph) and roughly half the households in Pinar del Rio remain without power.

La Coloma resident Ana Julia Arque, 71, tells EFE that she has had electricity for the last five days, though only for limited periods.

She adds, however, that the situation was not much better before the hurricane, as the inhabitants of the Communist-ruled island have endured power cuts and brownouts for months due to long-standing problems in the energy sector.

Ian is blamed for three deaths in Cuba – compared with 108 in Florida, where the storm made landfall Sept. 28 with winds topping 241 km/h (150 mph) – and brought down thousands of trees and power poles.

Flooding covered 21,000 hectares (51,851 acres) of farmland, including a portion of the tobacco crop.

The road into La Coloma is filled with power crews from across the county, working with local officials and volunteers to repair damaged poles and cables.

While several private homes have been transformed into classrooms for pupils whose schools were damaged.

Senior officials, including President Miguel Diaz-Canel, have visited the area several times to evaluate the progress of the recovery effort. EFE lbp/dr

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