Saturday, October 08, 2016

Residents of hurricane-ravaged eastern Cuba say they need help

Residents of hurricane-ravaged eastern Cuba say they need help

Matthew's winds had scarcely subsided in eastern Cuba Wednesday when
Msgr. Wilfredo Pino Estévez, bishop of the Diocese of
Guantánamo-Baracoa, set off at 5 a.m. to see what the hurricane had
wrought on Cuba's northern coast.

Representatives of Caritas Guantánamo, a Catholic charitable
organization, accompanied him, but they could only make it about halfway
to Baracoa because of the muddy, impassable roads. The bishop continued
on in a Jeep over a mountainous road where Matthew's heavy rain had
loosened mudslides before reaching the city of about 82,000 residents.

Father José Espino, left, pastor of San Lazaro Catholic Church in
Hialeah, is a liaison for Caritas Cuba, a Catholic charitable
organization. He's shown at an Archdiocese of Miami news conference with
Father Reginald Jean-Marie, pastor of Notre Dame d'Haiti in the
background. C.M. GUERRERIO
The journey took him 16 hours — even though a trip between the city of
Guantánamo and Baracoa usually takes about two hours and 15 minutes.

What he found in Baracoa, where Matthew's eye exited Cuba early
Wednesday, was a city with ruined roads, a damaged communications
system, and neighborhoods up to three blocks away from the sea reduced
to rubble by storm surges and high winds.

The devastation along Cuba's eastern tip prompted the Catholic Church to
issue an immediate call for aid to help Cuba recover from Matthew's

"Right now we're trying to negotiate a point of entry for aid," Father
José Espino, of San Lazaro Church in Hialeah, said Friday at an
Archdiocese of Miami news conference. He was in touch with Pino by phone
Friday morning when the bishop returned from Baracoa. Both the airport
and port in Baracoa were damaged. The seaport at Santiago, which wasn't
damaged during the storm, is the nearest major port.

The Archdiocese of Miami is asking for money and food donations, as well
as offers to transport goods by air or sea, for hurricane victims in
both Cuba and Haiti. The most immediate needs are canned goods,
especially proteins, and rice and beans — preferably on pallets and
ready to go, Espino said.

"Crops have been affected [by Matthew], and food is critical," he said.
In Cuba's Caujerí Valley, 448,000 banana plants and eight million tomato
seedlings were damaged.

Contributions can be made through the Miami Catholic Charities website
by clicking on the "you are supporting" option and selecting Disaster
Relief-Hurricane Matthew.

The archdiocese is also asking its Miami pastors to hold a special
collection this weekend during all Masses to aid those affected by
Matthew in the Caribbean and the United States.

Mirta Kaulard, resident coordinator of the United Nations Development
Program in Cuba, said the U.N. also is coordinating with the Cuban
government to offer humanitarian aid.

On Thursday, helicopters carrying Cuban authorities and journalists
arrived in some of the towns that had been cut off by impassable roads
and downed communications systems since the hurricane passed through
Guantánamo province.

Aerial images from Maisí showed that the majority of homes had lost
their roofs, and those from Baracoa showed flooded areas, destroyed
homes and fallen trees. Entry to Baracoa is limited by mudslides along
La Farola highway, a ravaged coastline and a partially collapsed bridge
over the Toa River.

"When we saw the helicopters, it filled out hearts with joy because it
was a sign aid was arriving. We hope that they give us every
assistance," a woman in Baracoa told Cuban television.

Some residents of Maisí put up a Cuban flag amidst the rubble. They told
the Guantánamo newspaper Venceremos that they raised the flag because
they were revolutionaries and wanted authorities to know they were there
and needed help.

Despite heavy damages, so far there have been no reports of
storm-related deaths in Cuba. Hundreds of thousands of residents of
eastern Cuba were evacuated to storm shelters or sought refuge with
family and friends. The Civil Defense system even evacuated some
residents of Maisí to caves in the nearby mountains where they sought
shelter for three days.

"Thanks to this we are alive, because when we returned to our homes,
they were half full of water, and all of them, except mine, had no
roofs," Julio César Romero told a reporter from the Juventud Rebelde

Maisí, Imías and Baracoa remained without power and telephone service at
midday Friday. Government efforts focused on restoring fiberoptic cable
service to the communities. About 112,000 residents of Guantánamo
remained without running water.

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gámez Torres contributed to this report.

Source: Residents of hurricane-ravaged eastern Cuba say they need help |
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