The rain increased and was barely noticeable before the searing sound of the wind. It was almost a buzzing, a scream sometimes. The electric power failed and forced to listen. It seemed like if a thousand invisible hands were raging against everything that was standing... Sheer terror.
A more spooky noise was added: the ceilings crashing against the walls, the houses collapsing, the metal structures flying without control... but until that moment there were mere suppositions. Nobody knew with certainty what was happening outside. The impotence hurt. A woman knelt to pray aloud and others joined her, while the wind doubled its whistle.
They opened the doors of the House of Combatants with the first light of that gray day. One of the neighbors could no longer contain the urge to smoke and went out emboldened in the hope of finding a cafeteria. He took some groping steps and came back shakily to tell that most of the homes, including his, did not have roofs. The tears came alone.
At that moment, people evaluated the great power that reached the Hurricane Ike, a non-well-known name and difficult to pronounce for Spanish speakers. Its aftermath exceeded the predictions. There were significant losses in agriculture, commerce, energy and communications services; as well as many government facilities and houses were affected in the province.
M.Sc. Alexey Moreno Borges smiles when he says that his 18 years of work in the Provincial Meteorological Center have coincided with the greatest cyclonic activity ever known in the soil of Las Tunas; and of course, Hurricane Ike has a prominent place. He explains that the eye of the organism, about 30 kilometers of diameter, entered our territory around midnight on September 7th, between the towns of San Juan and Pablo Hueco, in the Jesús Menéndez municipality.
The system moved to Puerto Padre municipality throught ´´San Manuel´´ and ´´Vázquez´´ and in its destruction scheme continued to ´´Manatí´´ through the towns of ´´Cerro de Caisimú´´ and ´´Meriño´´. The hurricane left the province for a point between the municipalities of Colombia (Las Tunas) and Guáimaro (Camagüey).
The meteorologist says that Ike, category three on the Saffir-Simpson scale, was characterized by the magnitude of its hurricane winds, by the extensive tropical storm area, as well as the clouds and rain that accompanied it. He says that ´´before the Dines' mast was knocked down by the force of the winds, gusts of 192 kilometers per hour were recorded at the Puerto Padre weather station, so we did not rule out that it had bigger ones.´´
An atmospheric phenomenon of that nature generates in the meteorologists mixed feelings. It is a catastrophe that nobody wants, but, from a professional point of view, it helps them to apply years of theoretical studies. The Center's technical deputy director says that ´´it was a decisive experience not only for the weather forecast team, but also for the observers and the support staff. Undoubtedly, it made people have a greater perception of risk.´´
THE PAIN OF REMEMBRANCE
Ten years after the most destructive natural event that the inhabitants of Las Tunas are attesting, the anecdotes of the moment take on a strange glint in the eye, an absence in some part of the memory for the losses we bear as a society, as a country.
Daphne was barely three months old when Ike demolished part of her house. His mother, Yenney Caballero, then 24 years old, shared with 26Digital the damp look and the hope of finding a quick solution to protect her baby in a safe and firm house.
Inside the tents our lens found genuine stories of several families, whose temporary solution was to live in a kind of camping. Much commotion sprang up from the words behind the long sheets of the canvas and the innocent joy of the children.
Reynaldo, José, Luis, and many other inhabitants of Las Tunas lost everything they had because of the meteor. From the roof, the walls, appliances, animals, material goods, and even the most spiritual heritage. The meteorological event affected the 45 percent of the houses of the province, about 80,000 homes. In the northern zone, the damage was extended to more than 70 percent of households.
Any sector could escape from the Ike's fury. All the municipalities suffered its impact; but the most affected were Jesús Menéndez, Puerto Padre, Manatí and Las Tunas. It ruined more than 86 percent of agricultural plantations and a lot of cattle farms, pig ships, forest areas, as well as the fall of electric poles and telephone networks, and the heavy damages to water and sewerage networks, educational centers and other social institutions.
A PAINFUL LESSON
Francisco López Bello, Vice President of the Provincial Council of the Administration for Defense, expressed that he would like Las Tunas not to repeat another experience like Ike's. While talks about his personal experiences, he assures that government structures and state entities improved their mechanisms in this regard after the event.
Francisco confirms that before September 8th, 2008, there was no real perception of risk in the territory. ´´I remember that in my closest environment people did not know what a hurricane was, they had not felt it in their own flesh. Many had not put their assets safely, they had not even evacuated and they did so at the last minute. The references came from the stories of the elders about Cyclone Flora, but Ike surprised all of us."
´´The Defense Council soon assumed a leading role, beside the victims, in the communities, palpating the facts. An evaluation was made and then assistance began to be provided, in correspondence with the affectations and priorities.´´
"For the first time we faced such a serious situation. And we learned on the fly. That Hurricane taught us how to act and achieve a quick response. It exposed fissures in the mechanisms of Civil Defense in terms of immediacy and, of course, raised the perception of danger in the population and also in the leaders."
"During the onslaught of Hurricane Irma, whimsically that same day, but in 2017, the organization was far superior to the previous events. Appropriate measures were taken; people cooperated, which contributed to reduce the losses. We learned of Ike's damages and acted accordingly.
What happened at the passage of "Irma" corroborates the undeniable qualitative leap that the society of Las Tunas has given as a whole to face, and most important, to recover from the scourge of meteorological organisms of great intensity. Following the fateful hurricane season of 2008, the country updated its policy of prevention and mitigation of risks to atmospheric phenomena that could be repeated in the future as a result of global warming.
The government's strategy has been oriented since then to evaluate hazards and vulnerabilities, perfecting the protection measures and carry out recovery plans that articulate the aid sent from the higher levels with the effort of each locality, and even families.
When Irma arrived in 2017, more than 9,000 Ike's victims did not have a definitive solution of their homes. They saw how their temporary residences were damaged by the new hurricane. But if in 2008 the answer left housing repair and construction almost always in the hands of the State, at the height of 2017 the residents themselves led the way.
State institutions are now engaged in financing 50 percent of the construction materials for the victims and making the procedures more expeditious, while continuing to support the construction of houses for lower-income families.
A decade after the passage of "Ike" and just a year after Irma, it's hard not to be a bit scared about the hurricane season and, specially, the month of September. Recovery from these disasters was and continues to be complex because of the magnitude of the damages. It is fair to say that the existing resources were distributed prioritizing the most needy, and unfortunately housing affectations remain until today.
Dafne, Reynaldo, José and Luis and many others for sure recall their experiences these days, with the jocular tone that characterizes the Cuban when it has passed the worst. Ike left a tangible mark in Las Tunas, for better and worse. At this point, many people store sacks to be filled with sand and secure the ceilings to the first weather alert. Nobody falls asleep on its laurels here anymore. We learned, by far, that it is better to prevent than have to regret.