Following the passage of powerful Irma, with hurricane and tropical storm force winds affecting most of the Cuban archipelago, authorities and the population in general are focused on recovery efforts to restore basic services and repair the material damages.
In this sense, the National Defense Council for Disaster Reduction is prioritizing the restoration of the electrical service, reestablishment of regular water supplies to the population, and the reopening of schools. Cuban authorities have reiterated that no person will be abandoned to their fate.
An Advisory from the National Civil Defense General Staff informed that after the passage of the dangerous atmospheric phenomenon over the country, the unfortunate loss of ten human lives was confirmed, in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Camagüey and Ciego of Ávila.
ELECTRICAL UNION WORKERS LABOR TIRELESSLY
The National Electrical Union (UNE) is working hard to restore power across the country, following the impact of Hurricane Irma over more than 72 hours on the island, with the load-generation balance reduced to zero.
Lázaro Guerra, UNE technical director, noted that almost the entire national territory was impacted.
He added that service has already been restored in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Granma, Holguín, Las Tunas and Camagüey, thanks to thermoelectric plants (CTE) in Renté, a unit in Nuevitas, and another in Felton.
The engineer explained that these are zones or “islands,” according to the electrical terminology, functioning with power generation through CTEs. However, he clarified that the service is not yet stable, and efforts are ongoing, including constant analysis and evaluation to ensure there are no setbacks, as any mistake could imply a further 36 hours of work.
Guerra noted that the power supply in the west is the most affected, with only a few plants functioning. In this area, only one unit in eastern Havana is functioning, although the Energás plant in Jaruco is also operational, as well as the distributed generation of the capital. Meanwhile, the central region is awaiting the incorporation to the grid of the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes generating unit in Cienfuegos.
Guerra explained that the damages are not due to impacts on the technology, but to the integrity of the national electrical system.
With some CTEs cut off from the grid, which generate 74% of the country’s power, full coverage of demand is currently hampered. He also explained that, with the exception of Renté in Santiago de Cuba and Cienfuegos, the rest are located on the north coast, which was violently struck by the cyclone. Without the incorporation the CTEs to the grid, there can be no stability in the service and as such it can not be fully restored. For this reason, efforts are focused on the creation of islands, which will then be interconnected to the national grid and make service sustainable.
“For this reason, although there are circuits available to energize, it is not possible to put them into operation due to lack of generating power,” he noted.
According to the Director General of the Havana Electricity Company, Jesús Samón, interviewed on national television, just 24 hours after Hurricane Irma passed, workers have succeeded in partially restoring power to the capital. “In areas such as the San Agustín substation, La Lisa, the service was restored in the early hours, also in parts of Old Havana, the Avenida del Puerto, a part of Boyeros, and in Plaza.”
RESTORING THE WATER SUPPLY SYSTEM
The water supply is another service to have suffered the impacts of Irma, “but work is already underway on its normalization,” assured Inés María Chapman, president of the National Institute of Water Resources.
The eastern provinces of the island have been recovering their water supply as the national electricity system has been restored in these territories.
This is the case of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo and Granma, where no pipeline damage occurred.
In the provinces where the power supply continues to be affected, the population’s needs are being met through emergency generators, water tankers, and trucks.
The transfer of resources to the central region of the country, severely affected by Hurricane Irma, has already begun. The area “currently has seven water tankers and several work brigades to start the recovery and guarantee supplies,” Chapman noted.
She explained that there are other complications in Havana. The systems are larger, thus requiring a greater workforce for repairs, and more movement in the water supply.
Despite this situation, the National Institute of Water Resources president expects that within 72 hours, the majority of the supply problems in the capital will have been solved.
There is encouraging news from Sancti Spíritus, where the Zaza reservoir was the main beneficiary of the hurricane, having accumulated 813 million cubic meters of water by 6:00 pm on September 11 – representing 80% of its capacity – thus far removed from the discouraging state during most of the year, holding just 17% of capacity before Irma struck.
MAJOR DAMAGE TO EDUCATIONAL FACILITIES
Minister of Education Ena Elsa Velázquez, told reporters that this sector is also moving toward recovery.
So far, more than 1,400 educational facilities are reported as affected, of these, some 500 in the capital. However, the minister noted: “We have already begun the sanitation process to create the necessary conditions to resume classes as soon as possible in all schools in the country.”
The Education Ministry has not set a fixed nationwide date for classes to resume, given that not all provinces suffered the same impact. It is expected that classrooms throughout the country will reopen their doors throughout the coming week, Elsa clarified.
CUBAN TOURISM INDUSTRY WILL BE READY FOR THE HIGH SEASON
Given the availability of 4,600 rooms, which represent the majority in the tourist resort of Holguín, the province remains able to receive visitors from any part of the world who choose to enjoy its natural beauty, as Eddy Santos González, Ministry of Tourism representative in Holguín, and Zarais Yunesca Ochoa Santana, Gaviota territorial rep in Oriente, emphasized.
Minister of Tourism, Manuel Marrero, noted that the resumption of Holguín's hotel operations with the UK and Canada demonstrates the confidence of tour operators in the capacity of Cuban sector workers to respond to situations like that recently experienced.
“They highly value the experience of confronting a hurricane with the large number of clients that were here, and that these followed all instructions from the hotels’ administrations in order to protect their lives,” Marrero stressed.
A very important aspect, he added, were the precautions taken in such facilities to withstand the natural phenomenon, and the fact that management were not shut up in their offices, but rather shared the most difficult moments with concerned tourists.
He confirmed that despite suffering damages, the Cayo Coco and Cayo Santamaría resorts will be ready to welcome vacationers in the upcoming high season. As such, the possibilities offered by the tourist destination of Holguín, characterized by its quality services, should be taken advantage of throughout the recovery process.
Hurricane Irma tested Cubans’ strength of character, who are now working hard to recover damaged infrastructure in towns and cities, clean up and collect debris, restore communications and undertake urgent agricultural tasks, a sector which also suffered major damage.