By Ray Sanchez | Havana Bureau | Sun Sentinel
Ike’s true fury may only be starting to show.
From the water-logged eastern provinces, where mudslides and rising waters kept hundreds of thousands of evacuees away from their homes, to the dilapidated tenements disintegrating in its wake, the fierce hurricane continued to punish Cuba long after it churned away into the distance.
Cuba’s official media Wednesday night reported 67 building collapses in this densely populated capital — 60 partially ruined, and seven destroyed — brought down by a combination of age, decay, neglect and Hurricane Ike’s torrential downpours and winds.
Just one day earlier, officials said 16 structures had given way to the storm, including four aged buildings in a single block that crumbled into rubble.
In its 41-hour odyssey across much of Cuba, Ike left a widespread swath of destruction nearly the full length of the island and claimed the lives of four people outside the nation’s capital.
On Wednesday, nearly 16 hours after Ike’s center had moved off toward the Gulf of Mexico, it took its fifth.
Shortly after 8 a.m., a concrete chunk of an adjoining building crashed through the roof of a tenement fronting Havana’s Malecon, triggering a chain reaction that toppled sections of floor after floor. Six hours later, emergency crews found 52-year-old Pedro Pablo Gonzalez’s body, buried under three stories of rubble.
Electrical power is out across much of the island, communications spotty. As many as 140,000 homes are damaged or destroyed, rain-swollen rivers have overflowed their banks, mudslides and felled trees block roads.
The catastrophic one-two punch delivered by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which struck Cuba just eight days apart, could result in billions of dollars of damage for the cash-starved island, according to preliminary estimates.
But even as rebuilding and relief efforts began, Cubans know Ike may still have more in store.
In Granma, heavy rains filled dams beyond capacity, keeping more than 340,000 people away from their homes.
In western Pinar del Rio reservoir levels splashed dangerously close to overflowing, threatening to flood nearby communities and roads, state media said.
In Havana, which occupies less than 1 percent of the country’s territory but is home to about 20 percent of Cuba’s 11 million inhabitants, much of the city’s aging, poorly maintained housing stock is in precarious condition. Buildings collapse in much lesser storms, and more may come down as the weakened cement dries.
A section of the decrepit building that set off the collapse that killed Pedro Pablo Gonzalez on Wednesday had itself tumbled to the ground in April.
Eleven families were forced into the street, and the building was left vacant and abandoned — but neither repaired nor torn down.
“They knew this would happen,” said Tania Castillo. “It was only a matter of time.”