Thursday, October 27, 2005

Cubans dig out after Wilma, many with lights out

Cubans dig out after Wilma, many with lights out
by Isabel Sanchez

Thursday, October 27, 2005
SANTA FE, Cuba (AFP): Cubans began cleaning up after waters that Hurricane Wilma slopped over sea walls and into cities began to recede on Tuesday, although many towns were without power.
Cuba's brightly painted but decrepit buildings were caked waist-high with mud and on the outskirts of the capital, streets were filled with silt and debris left by the storm, which some Cubans said was the worst they had seen in years.
"I have no place to sleep or anything," said Arelis de la Caridad, 32, homemaker, in Santa Fe, 20 kilometers (12 miles) west of Havana.
"When the sea is angry, no one can stop it," she said.
Outside, tractors and horse carts were pressed into service toting away debris from houses that had been crushed by the sea.
Civil Defense officials allowed residents to return in stages to their homes.
Although Cuba lies in the path of many Caribbean hurricanes, storm surges rarely top Havana's stone sea wall, the Malecon, as did Wilma, although the hurricane was 130 kilometers (80 miles) off the coast on its way to Florida.
In fact, Wilma toppled parts of the Malecon and charged into buildings behind it, knocking out walls.
Cubans rose early to begin cleaning mud out of the first floors of their homes and searching for food in the few markets and shops that opened Tuesday.
Officials allowed children to return to school Tuesday in areas where conditions permitted.
"Everything is flooded," said Evangelina Hinojosa, a 71-year-old retiree.
"The waves took out the walls and the door broke. The sea came in and didn't leave me anything," she said.
Cuba's electrical grid suffered serious damage during the storm, and wide areas have been without power since Wilma struck.
Line crews struggled with Cuba's feeble electrical network, but many parts of the country remained off line to avoid accidents. Some parts of Cuba had no water because electricity is needed to run the pumps.
Officials said no one had been killed or injured in the flooding, but damage to homes was high.
"More than 2,000 houses were covered by water and another 2,000 were damaged just in Santa Fe," Civil Defense chief Luis Angel Macareno said.
Civil Defense reported that 790,000 persons had been evacuated before the storm, 120,800 of those in Havana, where homes suffer from age and poor maintenance.
Authorities said some 260,000 people had been evacuated from the province of Pinar del Rio, west of the capital, which was hit with strong rains and flooding.
Rescue workers in inflatable boats patrolled some districts seeking to help those in need.

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