Eastern Cuba lashed by Matthew: collapsed homes, crumbling highways and more
BY MIMI WHITEFIELD
Residents of Baracoa on Cuba's northeastern tip awoke to a world
transformed Wednesday: collapsed walls, pieces of roofing and household
goods littering the streets, downed electric wires hanging at crazy
angles and large trees leaning against buildings.
The city of approximately 82,000 people was the exit point as Hurricane
Matthew tore through a narrow strip of Cuba's easternmost province,
Guantánamo — from Punta Caleta on the southern coast to Baracoa on the
north. It's one of Cuba's oldest settlements, and in 1492, Christopher
Many of the homes in Baracoa are old — some centuries old, and nearly
half of the dwellings in the province had been reported in poor
condition prior to Matthew's rampage. Many didn't hold up well to the
Category 4 hurricane and torrential rains.
As of Wednesday afternoon, no hurricane-related casualties had been
reported in Cuba. After the hurricane passed, the Red Cross swung into
action to free people trapped on second stories after stairways collapsed.
Cubadebate, a government news website, reported that the Baracoa airport
and its control tower sustained heavy damage and that little remained of
some coastal homes after 25-foot waves lashed the beaches. Sections of
the coastal highway between Guantánamo and Baracoa also collapsed, the
"Total destruction in Primera Villa Cubana," journalist Mavel Toirac of
Primada Visión television posted on Facebook. "It's still not dawn yet
but anyone who passes through the streets sees them covered in flooring,
fallen cables, unhinged doors, sadness..... We Baracoenses are going to
need a lot of strength to be able to deal with so much destruction.''
Arelis Alba, a journalist for Radio Baracoa, reported that the malecón,
the city's seaside boulevard, was "leveled" and "the sides of the nearby
mountains were ravaged as if by fire."
Hundreds of thousands of residents of low-lying areas and cays or those
who lived in precarious dwellings were evacuated from Guantánamo,
Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Granma and Las Tunas prior to the storm. In
Baracoa, some 36,000 residents were evacuated to shelters or the
sturdier homes of family and friends.
During the day Wednesday residents picked through the debris-strewn
streets, salvaging bits of furniture or anything else that seemed to be
The communities of Maisí, San Antonio and Imías, where a bridge was
washed out, also were hard hit. The meteorological station in Maisí
measured 20.7 inches of rainfall over a 24-hour period and the city of
Guantánamo recorded 11.8 inches of rain.
To prevent further damage, electrical power was cut off in the hurricane
zone before the passage of Matthew, Cubadebate reported.
At the U.S. Naval Station at Guantánamo Bay, base spokeswoman Julie Ann
Ripley said that damage was "minimal. The airport seems fine. The
harbor, we've got the security boats out running."
Damage at the Detention Center Zone where 61 war on terror captives are
held also was reported to be minimal.
Ripley said workers were clearing the ferry landings of debris in
anticipation of resumption of ferry traffic connecting the two portions
of the base that straddle Guantánamo Bay.
But timing was still uncertain on the return of the 700 family members
who were evacuated in military cargo aircraft to the Florida Panhandle
over the weekend. With the storm expected to hit the Eastern Seaboard,
Ripley said, the focus was on Hurricane preparation there.
On Wednesday, the Cuban government put recovery plans into effect in
Santiago de Cuba, Holguín and Guantánamo. Damages and the needs of
affected communities were being assessed. The Empresa Omnibus Nacionales
announced that suspended bus service on routes from the western part of
the island to the east would be restored as of 5 a.m. Thursday and on
east-west routes at noon.
Kenneth Merten, the U.S. State Department's special coordinator for
Haiti, said the administration had been in touch with the Cuban
government, as well as the governments of other Caribbean nations hit by
Matthew, to offer assistance. Cuba has routinely rejected such offers in
the past, but the response could be different now that the United States
and Cuba have reestablished diplomatic relations.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami reported maximum sustained winds
of 140 mph and 20-foot waves when Matthew made landfall on the island
Tuesday evening. By 6 a.m. Wednesday, Matthew had moved 75 miles north
of Baracoa but the effects of the hurricane — strong winds, downpours in
mountainous areas, and storm surges along the northern and southern
coasts — were still being felt during the day.
During the height of the storm, journalists from radio station La Voz
del Sol in Baracoa and Primada Visión posted continuously on Facebook.
"The walls of the station have been shaking and it just felt like
something was falling. Of the paladar (private restaurant) in front, I
think there's very little standing, very sad. We were praying that the
sea wouldn't reach the station; it didn't happen but…. Now it's calm,
there is no rain, no wind. We are in the eye of the hurricane."
MIAMI HERALD STAFFER CAROL ROSENBERG CONTRIBUTED TO THIS REPORT.
Source: Matthew lashes eastern Cuba provinces | In Cuba Today -