Reconstruction half-way, one year after Sandy

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CUBA STANDARD — One year after Hurricane Sandy strafed the eastern part of the island, more than half of the storm damages in Cuba’s second-largest city have yet to be fixed, Granma announced.

The official daily estimated the total damage at $2.7 billion, most of it in Santiago de Cuba.

Of 171,000 buildings affected by Sandy — 16,000 of them collapsed — nearly 79,000 have been fixed. More than half of storm damage cases, more than 92,000, have not been solved, the newspaper reported.

In comparison, an estimated one-third to half of the damage caused by the same storm in coastal Maryland, New Jersey and New York has not been repaired, according to recent U.S. press reports. No overall data is available for post-Sandy reconstruction in the United States.

The Cuban government granted storm victims cash subsidies, 437 million pesos CUP (US$16.1 million, according to the consumer exchange rate) in low-interest and interest-free loans, as well as a retroactive 50-percent rebate on already subsidized building materials.

However, materials are in short supply, particularly sand and cement. According to the report, to fix the more than 130,000 damaged or destroyed roofs, 7 million square meters of fiber-cement mesh, zinc and fiber-asphalt are needed. This represents nearly three times the island’s annual production capacity. Even though local building supply manufacturers are undergoing an expansion that should double their output, they are overwhelmed, according to Granma, forcing the government to bring in most of the supplies from elsewhere.

Granma: 16,000 buildings collapsed in Santiago, $2.7 billion in total damage

Beyond Santiago, the most affected cities are Palma Soriano, San Luis and Songo La Maya.

The reconstruction is a major challenge for Santiago Party Secretary Lázaro Expósito Canto, a rising political star in Cuba who has introduced hallmark reform measures in his province. The provincial government and Party are spearheading the reconstruction effort. The Communist Party newspaper admits that some of the neediest and most vulnerable storm victims have not been helped yet. Also, the newspaper reported that government prosecutors have opened 144 investigations into irregularities related to construction supplies.

“The battle is hard, and it will continue to be hard,” ExpĂłsito said, while appealing to people to leave behind “egotism and meanness,” according to Granma.

Only eight percent of those whose homes collapsed have found a permanent solution. The government built 1,244 homes in rural areas for storm victims, but the losses in the city of Santiago will require a longer-term approach, the newspaper said.

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