Cuba Culture

Hurricane Paloma brings more destruction to Cuba - video

Posted November 11, 2008 by publisher in Cuba Culture.

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.”


Member Comments

On November 12, 2008, MiamiCuban wrote:

It’s definitely time to lift the embargo.  Let Cuba purchase the much-needed wood and supplies from U.S. companies who could also use the boost in sales!  It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

On November 13, 2008, Cubaking wrote:

Hey Ray..wink  Please give my best to Patty

Spencer King

On November 13, 2008, Mako wrote:

I spoke to a friend in Camaguey today . Communications are starting to be restored . Santa Cruz , a quaint town of about 10,000 people has been leveled.

On November 13, 2008, publisher wrote:

Really a shame. Now they have to get in line behind all the other ravaged areas in Cuba. Too bad the Cuban government won’t let them rebuild their own homes.

On November 14, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

They do try to rebuild their own homes, but can’t get any material.

On November 14, 2008, publisher wrote:

... because of the failed centrally controlled communist policies of Fidel and Raul Castro. Right?

On November 14, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

Because they don’t have any lumber industry to speak of or production of dimensional lumber, steel mills, sheet metal mills, concrete block factories etc. All of the things that they have always imported from outside.

On November 14, 2008, publisher wrote:

Why don’t they have these industries?

I watched a video about pianos in Cuba and how these Irish guys were blaming the Embargo because they had to fly back to Ireland to get piano wire.

Why don’t they open a piano repair store in Cuba if there is such a huge market for it? Because of the Embargo?


Go ahead and open a piano repair store in Cuba if you are Irish. Why does the Embargo have any effect on your piano repair business in Cuba?

Answer: Because Fidel and Raul Castro will not let you open a piano repair store in Cuba.

Wake up people. Don’t be stupid. It’s not all the Embargo’s fault.

On November 14, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

They don’t have these industries because they don’t have trees to support a lumber industry or raw material to support a steel mill that wouldn’t have a big enough market to justify the enormouse investment required. Steel mills barely servive in North America as it is. As for the guys who complain about the piano wire. they probably could open a piano repair shop in co-op with the government, but how many pianos are there in Cuba to make it a viable proposal?

On November 19, 2008, MiamiCuban wrote:

I imagine that it wouldn’t be easy for Cuba to buy lumber from country A or B because country A or B would face fines from the U.S. for selling to Cuba, so in the end Cuba gets stuck with a product that’s low quality and also expensive (plus shipping fees).  So, yes, the embargo does have an impact, no matter how you look at it.

Aside from that, a socialist system operates differently from a capitalist system, so it’s impossible to compare apples with oranges.  One can debate forever about the benefits & drawbacks of each system and still get nowhere.  They are what they are.  And there are both happy and discontent people in the U.S. and in Cuba.

On November 19, 2008, publisher wrote:

Again big difference.

1. All countries can sell anything they want to Cuba. Only if they have a US presence can they be subject to fines. Sure the Embargo has an impact and as you know I am against it but I will not let people blame the Embargo like Castro does.

2. People in the US can elect to pursue any career they like, live anywhere they want, speak out against their leaders and leave the country if they don’t like it.

Can’t do any of that in Cuba.

Seems like a little more than just an argument.

On November 19, 2008, MiamiCuban wrote:

The U.S. and Cuba have an agreement for the U.S. to extend 10,000 visas a year to those who wish to leave the island.  Yet, the U.S. doesn’t even come close to granting this number.  Why not? 

As for choosing your own career—true, in Cuba it means you can only choose from the available options—which are based on the country’s projected needs.  In the U.S., the freedom to choose a career—while a good thing—also means that teachers can graduate and end up working for UPS, instead, because there are no teaching jobs available.  And people with law degrees will end up working as paralegals, while owing $100,000 in school loans.  It happens.  There are benefits, and certainly drawbacks, to both systems.

On November 19, 2008, manfredz wrote:

While I feel there are many better models to choose from between the American and Cuban models, I think if we only had the choice of either the American or the Cuban model, with very few exceptions, the only ones who would choose the Cuban model would be those who have never lived under it (and I dont count “living”  meaning to go to a resort for a 2 week AI vacation)

On November 21, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

I don’t think it is unfair to compare some things.
In the North America the extent of your education is limited by your ability and the size of your bank acount. In Cuba it is limited by your ability and necesary comittment to apply yourself to something usefull that you will enjoy doing the rest of your life, without the stress of having to pay for your food, lodging, clothes, courses etc. The education of it’s people is of great benefit to any country as we can see from countries with the highest standards of living. In this instance, the Cuban model might just be better than ours.
I did live in Cuba for over 3 years.

On November 21, 2008, publisher wrote:

“In the North America the extent of your education is limited by your ability and the size of your bank acount.”

Absolutely not true. No where else in the world can you have opportunities like those offered to those who try in the US.

“without the stress of having to pay for your food, lodging, clothes,”

Really? You believe that? And who is paying for your food, lodging and clothes? The Cuban government? How’s that working out?

On November 21, 2008, Mako wrote:

Pipefitter, EVERY WHERE your education is limited by your ability . People with IQs of 80, don’t become cardiologists. .
In Cuba people with IQs of 150+ are educated to be chemists , brain surgeons etc and they wind up driving taxis,
As far as being limited by the “size of your bank account” in North America I know about this guy who grew up piss poor, was raised by a single mother, then his grandparents, and went on to be President of Harvard Law Review. You probably have never heard about him ...his name is Obama

On November 21, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

Publisher, I don’t think you have looked at education in Europe for example as the government pay for most of it and even assist people to go back to school after they are in the work force. They realize that the more educated they get the population the more they help the economy. In the U.S. and Canada most people have to go into debt to go into higher education, unless you have a rich Papa. I have family in both the U.S. and Canada so I know how much they have to pay for an education. In Cuba they are fed and clothed etc. so they don’t have to worry about that anyways.
Mako, I don’t dispute that education is limited by ability any place in the world as to what you can be but in Cuba, if you can cut it you can get the education for free. You yourself in effect would be paying for it as you would pay back manyfold in taxes and contribution to society. As for Obama, I truely hadn’t heard of him before the begining of the year and it is evident that he may be an exceptional person (lets hope so) but they are few and far between. People in Cuba wind up doing lessor jobs because they can get more money from the tourists in tips.

On November 22, 2008, publisher wrote:

If you really believe that “In Cuba they are fed and clothed etc. so they don’t have to worry about that anyways.” you really need to go to Cuba once to find out that you are delusional.

On November 22, 2008, manfredz wrote:

the problem is that its true in cuba they are fed and clothed.  Problem is by now most people wish that the economic system were such that they earn enough to feed and clothe themselves, as those who have access to CUCs can.

On November 22, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

After hurrican Ike we sent 500.00 to family in Cuba to split up thinking that they may need it to buy food etc. so when we got E mails back telling us what they spent the money on, they told us they bought stuff like table lamps, bed spreads, curtains etc., stuff I couldn’t imagine as being essential to them. Another family member said not to worry about the food situation as there is sufficient but not much variety. We have three younger family members that are entering into university now. One asked us if we could send 2 purses to match different outfits. One asked for a flash memory to bring home course material etc. The other never asked for anything but we sent him a flash memory also. I know that 2 of them are housed and fueled at the university, although they say the food is pretty plain and barely edible, something like the hospitals here in Canada. The other one commutes to home as she has 2 kids. Most of what we send does get there, although we had one parcel dissapear. We do send some clothes and shoes etc. as there isn’t much to buy in Cuba and we know how women love clothes and shoes.  I agree that they would prefer to be able to buy their own clothes etc. I see that they are changing their forced retirement age to allow retired people to work and retain the pension etc. so this will probably allow some to get extra money to spend.
I will probably go to Cuba in the spring.

On November 24, 2008, Mako wrote:

Cubans just want a career that pays a living wage. Some social and judicial justice. And some freedom to truely express their views.Once the ankle weight are taken off the people of this country, it will be amazing to see what they accomplish

On November 24, 2008, publisher wrote:

“ankle weight”?

You are too kind to Fidel.

More like crushing burden of having the weight of the world on your shoulders for 50 years everyday waking up trying to make a day’s pay and get some stuff on the black market so you can trade it or bring it to your family so they can fix something that’s broken.

Tomorrow. Repeat.

On November 25, 2008, pipefitter wrote:

It sounds like you think they had no weight when Batista was in power.