Hurricane Victims Along Havana’s Coastline Wait for Help That Never Comes
Hope is fading these days in Havana’s San Lázaro Street due to the closing of the Malecón, after the damages left by Hurricane Irma. The lives of the residents along the coastline are stalled, waiting for humanitarian aid that has never arrived.
The San Leopoldo neighborhood and the areas from Maceo Park to the mouth of the Almendares River are the most affected. Two weeks after Hurricane Irma the residents are still trying to salvage their furniture and belongings damaged by the sea which flooded the area.
Mattresses have taken possession of the sidewalks, and some sofas and armchairs that show the watermarks from the floodwaters are musty with the small of salt and dampness. The most affected cling to the idea of rescuing everything they can, because they fear aid will be delayed or doled out in dribs and drabs.
“Ours is the only working TV on the block,” says Georgina, a resident of Perseverance Street. Every night when the primetime news comes on, dozens of neighbors gather around the screen. “People come to find out when they’re going to start distributing things.”
Reports in the official media show the arrival in the country of numerous donations from Panama, Venezuela, China, Bolivia, Colombia, Suriname or Japan. However, “not even a tablespoon of rice has reached this neighborhood,” laments Georgina.
Expectations grew among those most affected on hearing of the arrival of a Dominican Navy ship last Monday, with 90 tons of construction materials such as wood, doors, aluminum window frames, nails, metal roofing, wire, in addition to mattresses and portable generators.
“People thought they were going to start distributing all of that right away,” a young man explains to 14ymedio, as he helps his father move some sacks of cement to raise a more than three-foot high wall and stairs at the entrance of his home, which faces the sea. “We had one but it fell short,” he explains.
The Government allocated part of the national budget to finance 50% of the price of construction materials that will be sold to victims with total or partial damage to their properties.
Although Irma seriously damaged the electrical wiring, took part of the kitchen tiles, removed the toilet bowl and contaminated the water tank, the young Habanero considers that “the most urgent need is food because there isn’t any.”
A few yards from Belascoaín Street, a kiosk installed by the State for the sale of prepared food only offers a watery stew that few deign to buy. So far no free rations have been distributed in the area and potable water is also on sale in containers of various types.
The World Food Program (WFP) has allocated 1,606 tonnes of food and $5.7 million to cover the food needs of 664,000 people in affected areas for four months, but only one ration has been delivered to Centro Habana.
A resolution passed Tuesday said that the delivery of “products received as a donation (internal or external)” will be made “at no cost.” However, along with free distribution, victims are also demanding greater speed along with controls to avoid the ‘diversion’ (i.e. stealing) of resources.
“Food is the main thing because many people are left without money,” explains Heriberto, a retiree who lives on a second floor in San Lázaro Street. “I had no direct affects in my apartment but the refrigerator is empty and I have nothing to put in my mouth.”
Nearby, the broad portal of the Immaculate Church has just been repaired after the floods, with hinges and everything. Humanitarian aid for the most affected residents has been collected through a side entrance for days. The donations arrive in small quantities but they provide some relief.