Although Irma’s eye passed more than a hundred kilometers away from Havana, the extent of the storm surge in the capital had not been seen since Hurricane Wilma struck in 2005. The Malecon was submerged in several areas of the coastline and waves of up to nine meters broke a few meters from surrounding buildings. In the interior of the city, the main destruction included fallen trees, damaged houses and the downing of power lines.
On Monday, September 11, with the sun shining once again, Havana residents were immersed in recovery efforts to restore the capital to its former glory.
On Avenida 70, in Playa municipality, Granma came across a brigade from the José Martí Military Technical Institute busily removing fallen trees from sidewalks and roads.
Lieutenant Colonel Reinaldo López del Toro, leading the group, explained that, after cleaning the areas of their unit, all soldiers, cadets, and officers assumed the cleaning and sanitation of Playa’s main streets. “We are filling micro-dumpsters and communal services personnel will then remove them,” he added.
Forces of the Mayabeque Military Region were also immersed in the clean-up of debris in several coastal zones of the same municipality.
During a tour of the flooded areas of the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, reporters spoke with Jaimer González Torres, director of the Specialized Equipment basic enterprise unit, responsible for the cleaning and removal of debris and waste from the strip running from Línea Street to the Malecon.
“We have 12 trucks and three loaders, and we have already cleared some areas. But we are not the only ones involved, other entities are also working because the recovery includes everyone,” he noted.
Some 300 cadets of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) Academy, as well as dozens of officers of the institution, worked to clear 1st and 3rd streets, in Vedado, where the sea penetrated with force.
In the vicinity of Calzada and 12th streets, we came across workers of the Havana Basic Sanitation Company. Territorial head Verónica Martiatu Águila explained that they are responsible for extracting water from basements and lower floors, cisterns, unclogging drains, as well as clearing septic tanks, and the mechanized clearing of debris from buildings, housing blocks and state entities.
“People are desperate, and there are is huge damage. The work will progress gradually, as far as the sea allows. The company management is committed to resolving every issue and we have the means to do so,” she said.
In the area surrounding San Lázaro Street, near Maceo Park, the Raúl Roa contingent was working tirelessly to remove the debris left by the penetration of the sea.
“We are immersed in the cleaning and sanitation of San Lázaro Street. We will remain here until everything is cleared,” noted Carlos Nodal Airosa, a specialist in the contingent’s Special Work Brigade.
Recovery efforts cover all sectors providing services to the population.
The Director General of Aguas de La Habana, Leonel Díaz Hernández, told Granma that the capital’s water supply system suffered significant damages in terms of the electrical supply to pump water, although the pumping equipment did not suffer damage. This situation, he noted, is being resolved to begin to gradually restore the running water supply.
According to Díaz, the Cuenca Sur system, a fundamental part of the city’s supply system – responsible for supplying water to the municipalities of Centro Habana, Habana Vieja, Cerro, Plaza, and Diez de Octubre – saw its 18 pumps out of service after the passage of the hurricane.
“The western system of the capital has a similar situation. This circuit is responsible for the municipalities of Playa, Marianao and La Lisa. The first has already seen the supply restored, while the second was also reconnected using a fuel oil generator, but a discharge in the electric lines left it completely out of service, as such we are trying to reconnect it to the National Electric System.
”Likewise, Coscuyuela began to supply part of the population of Playa,” Diaz added.
The director general explained that the Paso Seco pipeline is still suffering electrical difficulties, but services have been steadily offered to hospitals and the population near these centers in Boyeros and Arroyo Naranjo.
The city's eastern system suffered the least damage, the official noted, although the biggest problems are associated with the El Gato pipeline – the second largest in the city – which supplies La Habana del Este, San Miguel, Regla and Guanabacoa, as well as the El Benigno line, which supplies most of San Miguel del Padrón.
Meanwhile, the Electrical Union began repairing damage and restoring power in Havana, where a significant number of neighborhoods have already seen service restored.
“Once there is availability on the grid, municipalities that were without service will be able to reconnect to the system gradually,” stated Lázaro Guerra, technical director of the Electrical Union. “This process of restoration must be well thought out, every action to be carried out entails a waiting time, we must analyze the results because a mistake can imply a setback of 36 hours of work,” he added.
Party Political Bureau member Mercedes López Acea, a vice president of the Council of State and president of the Havana Provincial Defense Council, noted that attempts are being made to provide street lighting in areas that remain without power.
Yanet Hernández, provincial director of Education in Havana, explained that although more than 40% of educational institutions in the capital have suffered some impact, those in adequate condition re-opened their doors to students on Tuesday, September 12, with the exception of the IPVCE Vladimir Ilich Lenin, as it continues to be used as an evacuation center.
“I am not guaranteeing that in all the schools there will be electricity, that when students arrive they will find the schools as they were on September 4,” Hernández told Granma, “students will have the trained people there who will be able to organize a series of activities for them.
“If a school has a teacher who has a specific situation, the possibility remains for the rest of the staff to take charge of the affected group,” she noted.
Meanwhile, Party Political Bureau member and Public Health Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda assured Granma that health services were maintained in the capital before, during and after the passage of Hurricane Irma.
According to the Health Ministry, there are currently no reports of the outbreak of communicable diseases in Havana.
The most affected areas, especially those in which the sea penetrated, have already been without electricity for more than 72 hours and sources of drinking water are contaminated.
“Normally people have reserves for these cases, but as the sea entered, the cisterns are contaminated,” Anet Baró Aguilera, a resident of San Lázaro Street, between Gervasio and Belascoaín streets, told reporters.
The President of the Centro Habana Defense Council, Ernesto Luis Corvo Vizcaíno, explained that steps are being taken to supply residents through water tank trucks.
During a tour of the area, Granma noted that several water trucks had been deployed to Centro Habana. Meanwhile, in the most severely affected areas of Vedado, close to the Malecon, water trucks have begun to arrive, but remain insufficient to satisfy the demand.
Enterprises linked to commerce and gastronomy in the capital are making efforts to continue to offer services in surrounding areas, including the sale of meals for those who do not currently have the means to cook themselves.
Meanwhile, Andrés Díaz, president of the Plaza Defense Council, noted, “For now, kiosks have been placed offering food at affordable prices all along Calzada Street.”
Idalmis Martínez Pérez, director general of the Union of Commerce and Gastronomy Enterprises of Havana, emphasized that yesterday all ration supply stores and supermarkets where there were no damages were open. In the case of the coast, she specified, products are being offered in the nearest undamaged stores.
She added that stands in large open squares are offering dairy, fresh, and liquid products, as well as cookies and crackers, while the basic network of retail stores offering household items remains open.