OFFICIAL VOICE OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CUBA CENTRAL COMMITTEE
The small fishing village of Jigüey, Camagüey, following Hurricane Irma. Photo: Jose M. Correa

Esmeralda, Camagüey.–In Jaronú, within the municipality of Esmeralda, there are colonial era houses, with high ceilings, tile roofs, and inner courtyards that in another time must have held tinajones, huge clay water jugs. And gardens. There are many wooden houses with roofs of tin or fibrocement sheets. And a few buildings.

There is a sugar mill. The Brasil, that during the harvest awakens everyone. There is a park, a church, a small hotel.

But this was before Irma.

People here say that the gusts were strong and the French tiles went flying, the tin, too. Walls fell, even those of masonry.

There are trees in the street pulled from the ground, utility poles over the sidewalk. In one of the ancient houses, two or three, several men on the roof removing debris and piling it on the sidewalk. On the next corner, an older man is cutting up an orange tree. Some of its branches fell on his house and the wind took the rest of the roof.

We walk. The sound of trucks can be heard beginning to collect tree branches and clear trails. The clean-up work has begun. People have come out onto the street to see their neighbors and raise spirits as best they can.

Jigüey was completely destroyed Photo: Jose M. Correa

Most of the roofing sheets covering the sugar mill's warehouse were blown off. They fell some 100 meters away, in the community, according to Nelson Cristiano, sector rep in this People's Council. Only the smokestacks of the mill remain intact.

Gilberto Lorenzo, president of the area Defense Council tells us that close to 90% of homes were damaged, saying that a tour was conducted yesterday, and that practically all of the dwellings in the Moscú neighborhood were partially or totally destroyed. There were 200 homes there, and only 10 are still standing. He added, "But we already have two chain saws and we're going to get more in a flash, and right away we're out to these areas to clear the streets and remove trees that fell on roofs."

When we reached Moscú, we came upon one of the houses leveled, that of Mayelín González. She had the bitter experience of seeing her own home collapse. Irma left only the back part, the kitchen.

"We are lucky to be alive; that's what's most important, mi'ja," she says, explaining that she spent the night in the home of Miriam Barrios, who took in 16 people and kept her door open for anyone who wanted to take refuge there. Because her house is masonry, one of the few in the area.

Miriam recounts that there were families who, about 11:00pm, when the wind was blowing hard, had to leave their homes because they were falling down. "Because they had confidence and didn't want to evacuate. I lived through Kate (1985), at that time I was a People's Power delegate, but nothing compares with this. After seeing what happened here, I had to sit down and cry. Not for my house - nothing happened to it - but for the others."

And unfortunately, there was a lack of discipline in some cases. People didn't want to evacuate; they thought it was just a bit of rain and wind, nothing strong. The buses came around once, twice, up to five times. And people still didn't want to go, Gilberto said.

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In Jigüey, a small town in Camagüey, there were only 25 houses, where about 60 people lived, almost all linked to the fish industry there. After the eye of the storm made landfall on nearby Cayo Cruz and Cayo Romano, all that can be seen now are the floors of those 25 homes.

The bricks that were walls are scattered over the ground, which is red, covered in places by the grey sand the sea left as it retreated

None of the residents were here. Everyone evacuated. Some to other houses they had in municipalities like Florida or Esmeralda itself. Because this is really just a fishing village, where the people come and go, although most of their belongings are here. Others went to friends' homes. Their little houses here were all they had.

The fishing center no longer exists. Only a few nets, tangled in the rubble or downed utility poles. Everything is on the ground. At least the boats were stowed safely. Some fishermen say: We already went to see them.

On the causeway connecting Jaronú and Cayo Cruz, from where one can see the desolation in Jigüey, Antonio Victoria, project manager for work on this road over the bay, told Granma that the roadway and embankment on the west side had been partially destroyed.

He said a 90 meter segment right before Bridge Number 1 is completely gone, along with a segment 40 to 50 meters after the bridge, reporting that damage was being assessed, to then begin the reconstruction and earth moving.

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Winds of more than 250 kilometers per hour were reported in Esmeralda, confirms Danayi Hernández Segundo, president of the Municipal Defense Council, who said more than 7,000 people were evacuated.

There are more than 3,000 homes in the municipality in poor condition, thus the number of total and partial collapses, which are still being tallied. Plus economic and service centers in the area were affected, and the town's 30 schools suffered damage to roofs and trim, he said.

"But the people have come out, to chop the tress, and we are doing a survey of all the dwellings affected," he said.

The overflowing of the Jigüey River, which we witnessed with our own eyes,

could create obstacles to communication in some of Esmeralda's People's Councils, while Hernández said that steps are already being taken to safeguard cattle. The population is being informed of this and other news with the use of loudspeakers.

Along the way, moving from one town to the other, just as the car was about to start off again, a campesino asked us to stop. He did not ask for help, or tell the press what Irma had taken from him, but rather to give.

He gave us some oranges, two or three avocados, for the road, he said, if we get hungry. We all looked at each other and thought the same thing: This man had perhaps been left without a home, but without thinking twice, gives us the little he has.