By Ray Sanchez | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
During every major story, there are things a reporter sees that don’t make it into the daily updates. Ray Sanchez, the Sun Sentinel’s Havana Bureau Chief, was among the first foreign journalists to reach the town where Hurricane Paloma made landfall.
These are some of those scenes from a hurricane in Cuba:
A day after Hurricane Paloma smashed into Santa Cruz del Sur with 145 mph winds, more than 800 people evacuated from the town gathered in the courtyard of the government shelter where they were being kept to hear when they could return to their homes.
As they waited, “Hotel California” by the Eagles blared over large speakers:
“You can check out,” they sang. “But you can never leave.”
Among the evacuees were nearly a dozen who had been in the shelter since September, when Hurricane Ike came through.
In the town where Paloma came ashore, 435 homes were torn to shreds. The sea swept in more than a mile inland. The wind and waves left wooden houses in splinters, topped with seaweed. Two of the two-story concrete walls of a factory crumbled into piles of rubble, smashing 57 wood fishing boats stored inside for safekeeping.
But in Cuba nothing goes to waste. Four men found a pig that drowned in the storm. They made a fire with wood from the broken boats, and roasted the pig.
Gilberto Legano, 43, a fisherman, was in the group. He lost his boat. Part of his house was demolished. “At least we’ll have a feast,” he said.
A two-mile stretch of Santa Cruz del Sur looks like it was hit by a giant wrecking ball.
What were once houses now look like piles of matchsticks. A coating of mud six inches thick covers the streets. Ripped clothing, tattered papers and pieces of smashed furniture lay scattered like confetti.
Only the sturdiest pieces stood their ground. At one house, all the walls are gone. So is all the furniture. Even the refrigerator and the kitchen sink. Only a toilet remains, planted firmly in the center of where the house had been.
While the soggy remnants of Paloma still meandered over Cuba’s eastern end, some of the townspeople began returning.
Reynaldo Alfaro, 56, stood looking over the tattered pieces that had been the walls and metal roof of his home. Behind him, someone commented that he had heard on the radio that this storm wasn’t so bad.
Alfaro turned to face him.
“What do you mean, it wasn’t so bad?” he asked. “This is 50 years of sacrifice, gone.”
Then, with tears in his eyes, Alfaro began pointing out broken parts of the house. “I can salvage some bricks. I can save some of that wood. And I can start to rebuild. But I don’t know where to start.”
A neighbor wandered over and put his hand on Alfaro’s shoulder. “Don’t worry, my friend. We’ll get through this.”