Hurricane devastates eastern Cuba, wreaking billions worth of havoc

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Official media confirmed that hurricane Sandy caused 11 deaths, damaged more than 115,000 buildings and destroyed 15,000, and obliterated one-third of the country’s coffee crop as well as a big chunk of the sugar harvest when it hit eastern Cuba Oct. 25, likely amounting to damages in the billions of dollars.

The official damage toll has yet to be calculated, Foreign Trade and Investment Minister Rodrigo Malmierca said during the opening of the International Havana Fair Nov. 4.

As in 2005, the last year major hurricanes hit Cuba, the damage from Sandy will likely dent the country’s economic growth and trigger another cash shortage. The Cuban economy grew 2.1 percent during the first half of the year, Malmierca said, 0.2 percent more than during the same period in 2011. He didn’t say whether the government expects a slowdown for the remainder of the year.

In Santiago province, 137,000 homes were damaged, including 43,000 that lost their roofs and at least 15,000 that were destroyed. About 52,000 homes were damaged in Holguín province.

The storm wiped out 245,000 acres planted with sugarcane, banana, coffee and other crops.

Normalcy has been slow to return in eastern Cuba. Power lines were toppled throughout Santiago and Holgu√≠n as well as Granma and Guant√°namo provinces.¬†Almost two weeks after hurricane Sandy devastated Cuba’s second-largest city, Santiago was still struggling with widespread power outages and shortages of running water. As of Nov. 5, electricity workers were able to re-establish power only for a little more than one-quarter of households, and hundreds of thousands of residents still rely on tanker trucks for drinking water supply.

Ra√ļl Castro immediately traveled to Santiago and vowed to stay there until electricity was restored.

Electricity workers have to build “practically all the secondary networks from the ground up,” a Prensa Latina report said, referring to downed wires connecting buildings to the grid.

Earlier this year, health authorities had reported a cholera outbreak in the region. Pharmacies were stocked up on disinfectants as well as with cleaning supplies; the government urged caution in the preparation of meals and storing of drinking water.

Students didn’t return to school until Nov. 5; students from damaged school buildings had to be moved to intact schools, which introduced shift systems. 859 school buildings with more than 180,000 students were affected by the storm; 29 school buildings were completely destroyed.

Due to thorough evacuation procedures in Cuba, deaths have been rare in storms. The 11 deaths this time stand out, although this is in contrast to the at least 52 deaths in neighboring Haiti, which didn’t even bear the brunt of the hurricane.

Meanwhile, the Venezuelan government established an air lift to eastern Cuba, to fly in food and other much-needed goods. Russia and the Dominican Republic also sent emergency supplies.

Hurricane damage in Santiago

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