A Year After Tornado in Cuba, Luyano Residents Still Swallowing Dust
First it was necessary to see everything. To walk through Mangos, Pedro Perna, San Luis, Quiroga, Melones, Reyes. All those streets of Luyano which, a year ago, showed a scene of terror after a tornado passed through on the night of January 27. Later, returning the same way, to see every new house that has been raised with its tin doors and windows and others still under construction.
Never before had a tornado been seen there. Twelve months have passed and the little kiosk where newspapers are sold is now again in its place.
In the street to the side of the church that lost its bell tower, kids play volleyball, raising lots of dust. Some are in the shade, making fun of a girl and laughing like crazy, while others, under the sun, smack the ball. A year ago no one was laughing or playing in these streets. People would walk up and down without knowing what to do, with anguish and desperation painted on their faces.
Yes, the dust is still lying on the ground, and the rubble, and pieces of beams, old buildings. From the wooden house that broke in two that day there is now no more than a lot full of stones and some wood. Beside it an identical house survived, with two of its inhabitants seated at the front door, drinking coffee and answering. “Yes, of course, we remember it well, how could we not remember that day? It seemed like an airplane was landing at our door. Since that day here everyone has been doomed to swallow dust,” one affirms.
An older man, resident of the block, remembers that when he was a boy something similar happened in Bejucal. “It was December 26, 1940. I remember it well because my second brother was born that day and my mother was very scared because of the news.”
On Calle San Luis, between Remedios and Quiroga, the hustle and bustle of a construction crew interrupts the street. Mounds of sand and other materials accumulate in piles in front of houses. In a walkway at the back a group of builders cuts pipes, sifts sand, or eats lunch. For all of the residents around here they are: “the brigade.”
One woman, with a scarf on her head, brings coffee to the men and explains that “on that day” she wasn’t in her house. “I had stayed with my mother. When I arrived was when I saw the destruction. A column came down and the wall over there of the room as well,” she says.
When in Luyano someone says “that day” everyone knows that they are talking about the night of January 27, 2019.
“Here there wasn’t any subsidy or anything, it’s this brigade that you see working there that is repairing everything and they bring what is needed. They began a while ago, but it was about two months ago that they began to make progress. They already did my bathroom, now I’m waiting for the water installation, and in the room they only have part of the brickwork left to do, the roof is like new,” she said.
After the tornado the Government sent construction crews and cooperatives to rebuild the houses and buildings affected in addition to reconfiguring state owned places to serve as housing. In many cases subsidies were given to the victims to pay for the construction work and they were given discounts on prices of construction materials.
The head of the San Luis crew explains that “everything is going well” with the work but that sometimes “the work becomes a little difficult because now there is no fuel to bring the workers each day, sometimes not even enough fuel to bring lunch or materials.”
Outside, on the sidewalk, a young woman dragging a carriage with her baby explains that her patience has run out. “I got tired of waiting, because I wasn’t seeing that they were making progress, so I moved. I come to take a walk here because all my friends are here,” she says, seated beside some young people listening to a loud reggaeton song that repeats “bebesita” again and again while she rocks the carriage without ceasing. She seems nervous. She says that she also had to leave because her daughter was getting sick a lot from all the dust.
There are things that don’t change. In the Luyano bakery the line to buy bread is almost the same as on that day.
The school on Pedro Perna street was made new, almost unrecognizable. “On this street they have given new homes to many people, some have come out winners and now they live better than before, their little houses here were really bad. Others are still waiting for construction to finish,” says a gentleman who, from his doorway, speaks with everyone passing by. Walls of yellow, blue, pink, green, all recently painted. Many houses still have bare walls, in others they are still laying bricks or putting up the framework.
It was night when the tornado came, so few people could see it. What everyone does remember is the fear that it brought to the people. “I couldn’t see anything, but from the booms it seemed like the world was coming down, horrible. I got under the little kitchen table, I was really scared, nobody had seen anything like it,” he adds.
The tornado wasn’t a small thing. It reached F-4 on the Fujita scale (winds of 300 kilometers per hour, equivalent to a category 5 hurricane) and its passing affected the municipalities of 10 de Octubre, El Cerro, Regla, Guanabacoa, and part of East Havana. According to official data there were seven fatalities and more than 200 who suffered injuries. More than 1,600 trees fell in the devastated area and 7,761 homes were affected, of which 730 were totally collapsed and others partially.
At dawn on January 28 in the street, hundreds of electricity and telephone posts were on the ground, one thing atop another, everything mixed together. Cars were upside down and crushed after turning over in the street.
Many doors and windows were also pulled out and water tanks flew like birds. The air column ended up dragging the weakest buildings like small kiosks and makeshift houses, as well as fences and traffic signs.
A year ago nothing else was talked about in Havana. In face of the horror many people mobilized to help those who had lost everything. House by house they came, giving the little they had: water, food, clothing, coats.
There are few photos and no video of that tornado. A security camera was able to capture part of its route and thus many were able to put a face on the horror they experienced that night. Social media was filled with questions that night, some sharing their first impressions of “booms” heard or “balls of light” seen in the sky, but the news on Cuban Television said nothing.
It was the next day that certainty came and the images of the disaster began to circulate, frightening half the world.
Translated by: Sheilagh Herrera