Hurricane Sandy Devastates US and Cuba
132 people dead. An estimated 63 billion dollars in damages. 8.5 million people without power and heat. One might think that these statistics come from the effects of a
devastating natural disaster hitting a developing country with little resources able to
respond to powerful storms, but they do not. This is the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
in the richest country in the world, United States of America.
As hurricane Sandy swept across the eastern U.S. a path of destruction left the especially the poorest and most oppressed people devastated and without any support or resources. When the financial heart of the U.S., the New York Stock Exchange, opened 2 days after the storm, aid workers and doctors contracted
by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, were held up behind
bureaucracy that left them waiting rather than helping those effected by the storm.
Five days later 30,000 to 40,000 people in New York City were still in need of shelter,
including 20,000 who live in public housing. After 11 days, tens of thousands of people in NYC public housing projects were still without heat, hot water and electricity.
Before hitting the U.S., Hurricane Sandy had already taken the lives of 65 people in
the Caribbean. As the storm unleashed vicious winds and and rain over Eastern Cuba,
the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Holguin and Guantanamo suffered the biggest losses. 11 people were killed, despite all precautions and care taken by the Cuban revolutionary government to save and protect human lives. 226,604 homes were completely or partially destroyed. Hundreds of thousands were left without electricity.
Yes, the impact of Hurricane Sandy in Cuba was immense, but looking at the aftermath, there is a clear difference the effect of this natural disaster on the
people of Cuba and the people of the U.S.
It Starts with Preparation
Cuba is recognized internationally for their preparation for natural disasters
that puts human lives before property and profits. As soon as it was clear the Hurricane Sandy was heading right towards Cuba, mass evacuations of over 340,000
people were organized.
As, Dr. Luis Foyo Ceballos director general of the Cuban Red Cross said in a
recent interview “There is an important link to the longer-term disaster preparedness
work of the Cuban and the government... Vital preparations we made prior
to included evacuating people, livestock and valuables from low-lying areas that
were at risk from sea and storm surges and strong winds.”
Time to Rebuild
In a Oct 27th article from Reuters, Alexis Martinez, who had lost the roof off of his
own house in the storm, summed up the response of the Cuban government and
people to the destruction when he described “My wife is mobilized for public
health and me for the rubble brigade. Our son is with his grandmother, and the
roof we’ll see about later. Right now there are things more urgent to do.”
Rather then hiding behind long lines of red tape the government of Cuba took
immediate steps to ensure that people would be able to get back to their normal
lives as soon as possible. Workers poured in from all over the island to participate
in work brigades, with over 500 people joining 72 brigades charged with restoring
In every level, people in Cuba are mobilized for reconstruction. Workers in other
provinces have given their support to Cubans affected by the Hurricane, such as
the farmers in Artemisa that sent 980 tons of root vegetables. Cuban schoolchildren
resumed classes almost immediately, even if their schools were damaged, they were
reopened in peoples homes or community spaces. 186 grocery stores that faced
extensive damages were relocated and reopened. Construction supplies are being
sold at a 50% of their normal cost, with partial or complete subsidies from Cuban
government, as well as low interest loans are available.
Why the Difference?
So how is it that Cuba, a small island nation that has suffered under a criminal
U.S. blockade for over 50 years can provide the planning, organization and quick
disaster relief to those devastated by Hurricane Sandy? Because the government of
Cuba puts human life and needs first.
Days after the Hurricane U.S. President Obama visited the disaster areas, promising
immediate assistance to victims, and then continued on his busy campaign trail. Cuban President Raul Castro went to Cuban city of Santiago, where he remained
until all power to the city was restored.
Now people in the U.S. are left alone with little resources and big battles with insurance companies, while people all over Cuba are united together and mobilized
for reconstruction. The road to recovery in both countries is long but revolutionary
Cuba is leading the way.
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