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Posted July 11, 2005 by publisher in Cuban Healthcare

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BY RENATO PEREZ AND NANCY SAN MARTIN | Miami Herald

Under a drizzle that seemed to cover all of Cuba, more than 1.5 million evacuees returned to their homes on Sunday as workers began recovery efforts in the aftermath of the worst hurricane to hit the communist nation in four decades.

Electricity, water and natural gas were being restored gradually in the city of Havana, but other areas of central Cuba continued without service, state media reported.

Cubans everywhere were out in force cleaning debris from roads and streets, removing fallen trees and posts and sifting through the rubble of downed homes. Public transportation also resumed on a limited basis, packed with residents trying to get back home, the state-run Prensa Latina reported.

Cubans everywhere were out in force cleaning debris from roads and streets, removing fallen trees and posts and sifting through the rubble of downed homes. Public transportation also resumed on a limited basis, packed with residents trying to get back home, the state-run Prensa Latina reported.

In an act of defiance against the furious storm, which Cuban leader Fidel Castro took to calling ‘‘the mercenary hurricane,’’ a headline on Prensa Latina’s website proclaimed: “Wet, but still standing . . . ‘’

Castro’s quip came from the fact that the storm entered Cuba through an area of Matanzas province that included the Bay of Pigs, site of the 1961 invasion by Cuban exiles sponsored by Washington. Ever since, the invaders have been called ‘‘mercenaries’’ by the Cuban government.

Dennis, a Category 4 storm when it made landfall Friday, killed 10 people and caused extensive damage as it brushed southeastern Cuba and tore through the central farming region, ruining swaths of agricultural fields.

Most of the worst damage was reported in the southeastern provinces of Granma and Santiago, which was sideswiped by Dennis as it headed northwest toward Havana and later moved into the Gulf of Mexico. But Dennis’ pounding rain and wicked wind gusts was felt in the central provinces of Cienfuegos, Sancti Spritus and Villa Clara as well as the northwestern provinces of Matanzas and Havana as well as in the capital city of Havana.

Even though Havana was spared a direct hit, a preliminary report issued Sunday by the Provincial Defense Council said 1,828 homes in Havana were damaged, including 30 that completely collapsed. The worst-hit neighborhoods were Regla, East Havana, Marianao, and Cotorro. Twenty-nine schools, 21 clinics, and 13 hospitals also were damaged, the report said, along with countless stores and factories.

Dennis uprooted 350 trees and whipped another 3,000 in the capital. Elsewhere, workers began gathering 385 tons of crops from damaged agricultural fields.

But some sense of normalcy began to emerge Sunday.

International flights resumed at Jose Mart International Airport in Havana as did many domestic flights, including to the beach resort city of Varadero. With electricity restored in some areas, several businesses reopened, Prensa Latina reported.

And everyone, it seemed, pitched in to clean up the mess.

Guillermo Gonzlez Sols, a resident of the Havana neighborhood of Alamar told Tribuna de La Habana, an electronic daily, that he and his neighbors, ‘‘in a spontaneous manner,’’ began to clear the rubble-strewn streets.

‘‘My machete has cut many tree branches,’’ he said. “To remove the effects of the hurricane is our problem. We can’t wait for someone else to do it.’‘

Emma Gual Barzaga, president of the Defense Council in Cotorro, told Tribuna that teams of residents had been assigned to keep the sewer drains clear from debris.

‘‘Each team was in charge of clearing a specific sector,’’ she said. “At 5 a.m. [Sunday] everybody was ready to start the cleanup, and whenever a brigade would finish its assigned area it would ask for another.’‘

Dennis was the deadliest hurricane to hit Cuba since 1963, when Flora claimed about 1,200 lives. The 16 other hurricanes that struck the island since then killed a total of only 20 people—a statistic the government credits to its nationwide system of alerts and mandatory evacuations.

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