Severe Weather Blog

For Cuba, the task of cleaning up after Hurricane Matthew has begun

A boy and a woman walk next to remains of homes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba. The hurricane rolled across the sparsely populated tip of Cuba Tuesday night and early Wednesday, destroying dozens of homes in Cuba's easternmost city.
A boy and a woman walk next to remains of homes destroyed by Hurricane Matthew in Baracoa, Cuba. The hurricane rolled across the sparsely populated tip of Cuba Tuesday night and early Wednesday, destroying dozens of homes in Cuba's easternmost city. AP

Rain fell across much of Cuba Thursday as the arduous task of recovering from Hurricane Matthew’s devastating march across the island’s easternmost tip cranked up.

In Baracoa, where some homes were reduced to tinder and the power grid was severely damaged, work brigades, communications crews and linesmen began arriving from Las Tunas, Camagüey and Guantánamo soon after high winds subsided on Wednesday.

Members of the Cuban military also were helping remove boulders and other debris that made some roads impassable.

Even though Matthew had moved on to the Bahamas and was threatening the Florida coast Thursday, storm surges along Cuba’s northern coast all the way to the Cayo Coco resort area in Ciego de Avila province continued to plague the island. Coastal flooding also was forecast from Cayo Coco to northern Villa Clara province.

Hundreds of thousands of people in Cuba’s eastern provinces were evacuated from low-lying areas and precarious dwellings, and no loss of life related to the hurricane has been reported so far.

The province of Guantánamo, where Matthew’s eye made landfall near Punta Caleta on the southern coast Tuesday evening and departed at Baracoa on the north around midnight, was the hardest hit. In San Antonio del Sur, rising levels along the Sabanalamar River were still a threat and additional people were evacuated from their homes Wednesday afternoon.

Along el Bate Bate, a coastal road, chunks of asphalt were scattered like scraps of paper, and where there had been a road, there are now large expanses of bare, red earth. Only about a quarter of the 656-foot bridge that once spanned the Toa River remained.

Despite hurried harvesting in the days before Matthew hit, 448,000 banana plants and eight million tomato seedling in the Caujerí Valley were affected by the hurricane, according to Cubadebate, a government affiliated website.

Roads were impassable and communications were down in some remote areas of Guantánamo, making damage assessments difficult. But Cuban journalists took to social media to get the word out about what was happening in their communities.

Arelis Alba Coba, a journalist with Radio Baracoa, for example, provided running updates on Twitter from one of Cuba’s oldest and — before Matthew’s rampage —most picturesque cities. She posted pictures of devastated streets and reported that demolition had begun on homes along the city’s Malecón, the seaside boulevard, and nearby Crombet that were total losses.

Coba said it appeared that about 80 percent of homes had lost their roofs or had sustained roof damage. Several Baracoa hotels also had roof damage.

Even Cuba’s Ambassador to the United States, José Ramón Cabañas, took to Twitter Thursday, offering “our solidarity toward the population of South Florida as it now prepares to face the onslaught of Matthew.”

Prensa Latina, the Cuban news service, reported that Maimir Mesa, Cuba’s minister of communications, was scheduled to arrived in Baracoa to oversee restoration of fiberoptic cable to the city. “Kilometers of fiberoptic cable are gone,” he said on Cuban television.

But the city of Santiago along Cuba’s southern coast, which was devastated when Hurricane Sandy hit in October 2012, emerged from Matthew relatively unscathed. “El Matthew in Santiago was a no-show,” Father Luis del Castillo of Sacred Family Church said in an email. “There was a only a little rain.”

Evacuees, he said, were returning to their homes and recovery efforts were limited to taking down coverings from doors and windows and retrieving equipment that had been stored for safe-keeping.

Recovery teams stationed in Santiago prior to the storm, he said, had moved on to the hard-hit province of Guantánamo.

In addition to Baracoa and San Antonio del Sur, significant damages also were reported in Moa, Yateras, Maisí and Imías. Maisí remains cut off from the rest of the province, but officials are commuting via satellite phones.

Bus transportation to the eastern provinces was scheduled to be restored Thursday. Many flights to the eastern provinces were canceled Monday, but Cubana de Aviación, the national airline, planned to resume flights to Santiago and Holguín Thursday.

Cuban authorities said flights to Baracoa, Guantánamo, Moa, Camagüey, Bayamo, Manzanillo, Las Tunas and to destinations in Haiti and the Bahamas would be restored as soon as conditions warrant. Passengers with tickets on canceled flights were eligible for reimbursements.

El Nuevo Herald staff writer Nora Gámez Torres contributed to this report.