Cuban President Raul Castro on Wednesday made his first public trip to an area stricken by the hurricanes that devastated Cuba and expressed confidence it would be rebuilt better than before the storms.
Castro, who formally replaced older brother Fidel Castro as president in February, visited the Isle of Youth, 40 miles (64 km) off Cuba’s southwestern coast, which suffered severe damage when it was struck by Hurricane Gustav on August 30 and brushed by Hurricane Ike 10 days later.
“There were places so affected (by the storm), like the island,” Castro said in a report on state-run television.
But, he said, “they will be put back as before, and prettier.”
Castro has kept a low profile during and after the storms, in contrast to the days when his brother led the country and quickly visited damaged areas.
He said he was impressed by the good spirits of the people on the island, where up to 90 percent of the buildings were damaged or destroyed.
Gustav struck western Cuba with 150 mph (240 kph) winds, while Ike raked eastern Cuba with 120 mph (195 kph) winds then passed through the Caribbean and hit western Cuba on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. It later slammed into Texas, causing widespread damage in and around Houston.
The Cuban government said the storms caused $5 billion in damage and that 200,000 people had not been able to return to their homes.
Castro said it would take time to restore normal life to the stricken areas, given the breadth of the damage.
“Before, it was a little easier after the first hurricane, but now it’s the country,” he said.
(Reporting by Nelson Acosta, editing by Jeff Franks and Stacey Joyce)