To follow up on supervision of recovery efforts in provinces affected by heavy rain associated with subtropical storm Alberto, the end of May, Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, accompanied by José Ramón Machado Ventura, second secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, along with several Council of Ministers vice presidents and members, on June 11, again spoke via videoconference with authorities in central and western provinces.
During the meeting, the third of its kind since the torrential rains, the arduous work being done to repair damages as soon as possible was confirmed. Diaz-Canel recognized the effort and called on all responsible parties to maintain the measures adopted and reinforce support provided by central state administration bodies to the provinces.
As on previous occasions, local Party and government authorities reported on damages and immediate steps taken. It was reaffirmed that crops, roads and housing suffered the most damage.
Authorities in Pinar del Río reported that intense work is underway to save tobacco in the fields and re-plant more than 1,200 hectares of food crops. Some 33,000 hundredweights of produce has been harvested, they indicated, and only three roads remain to be repaired, although traffic is not interrupted.
Leaders in Artemisa and Mayabeque reiterated that the rain did not cause significant agricultural losses and daily deliveries of foodstuffs to the capital continue, although planting has been delayed in some areas of Artemisa due to the persistent precipitation.
Party and government officials in Havana provided an update on the housing situation, following numerous collapses associated with the heavy rain. Families who lost their homes are being supported. Many are staying with family members, and some in temporary housing. Unused buildings that could be remodeled as housing units are being considered as an alternative.
Reports indicate that, in the province of Matanzas, the most extensive damage occurred in the municipality of Ciénaga de Zapata, fundamentally in Cayo Ramona, where 205 houses remain under floodwaters. Given the swampy terrain, water drains very slowly. Some 3,000 persons were evacuated from the town and classes for 219 students have not resumed.
On this point, Díaz-Canel called for careful study of the terrain and the cause of delays in supporting the area, where problems remain unattended 15 days after the rain ended. He indicated that alternative solutions must be found for children not attending school, some even staying in other provinces, to ensure that they finish the academic year.
The report from Cienfuegos indicated that only ten families remain sheltered, and that water, electricity, and telephone services have been restored. Agricultural losses have been identified on 3,182 hectares of grains, as well as green and root vegetables, while replanting has begun on 3,800 hectares of various crops.
In regards to the city’s bay, facing the impact of an oil spill which left 12,000 cubic meters of contaminated water, the ongoing clean-up was explained. Ten zones have been identified, in which provincial enterprises are working with the population’s collaboration. Although a precise estimate of damages has not yet been possible, experts say the area’s biodiversity has surely been affected considerably.
Among the most difficult issues in Villa Clara is that of roads and highways, above all in mountainous areas. Additionally, some 4,000 hectares of crops were totally lost. All consumable crops were harvested and an emergency replanting effort is underway to mitigate the situation facing agriculture in the province.
Authorities in Sancti Spíritus gave an update on the Zaza reservoir, which is filed to 76% of capacity and continues to receive water, and reported that all damage to water pipelines, as well as electrical and telephone systems, has been repaired. The greatest damage occurred in fish farming, with more than 1,000 tons of fish lost, and in agriculture, with 2,400 tons of rice destroyed.
Regarding the bridge over the Zaza River, which lost two spans to the torrential current, the extent of damage to the foundation has yet to be determined since the river continues to run high and waters are murky.
In the meantime, work has begun on the railroad bridge to reinforce its foundation, since it was also impacted by the cresting river.
The situation is improving in Ciego de Ávila, according to authorities, who reported that progress is being made in the agricultural recovery and an emergency re-planting effort on more than 3,000 hectares is underway. Tobacco, they said, has not been affected, and all the mango that ripened early because of the rain has been harvested, while roads have been repaired.
Reported during the meeting was the decision to deliver 15,000 mattresses to the provinces, to be distributed to affected families, since this is one of the household articles which many lost to the floods.
Alejandro Gil Fernández, first deputy minister of Economy and Planning, explained that two pounds of potatoes per capita will be sold to all consumers in Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Sancti Spíritus, the three most severely affected provinces.
Other provinces will gradually deliver 1,200 tons of plantain, corn, and taro, to reinforce food supplies in these areas. Likewise prioritized are retail sales of rice, chickpeas, beans, and eggs.
In terms of environmental damage caused by sub-tropical storm Alberto, Minister of Science, Technology, and the Environment, Elba Rosa Pérez Montoya, stated that only preliminary evaluations have been conducted at this point, although deterioration of water quality, mudslides, and soil erosion have been confirmed, along with severe erosion on six Vila Clara beaches.
She noted that forecasts for the current week (June 11-17) indicate that precipitation will continue throughout the country, emphasizing that soils are saturated and appropriate measures must be adopted.
First Deputy Minister of Agriculture Julio García Pérez reported that crops continue to be harvested and distributed directly to markets for sale to the population, while special attention is being paid to rice and tobacco still in fields awaiting harvest. He reiterated that seeds and fertilizer have been distributed to all areas where replanting can begin.
Addressing damage to railroads, Minister of Transport Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez explained that both the northern and southern lines remain closed, as work continues on segments, in conjunction with the Ministry of Construction.
Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda, minister of Public Health, emphasized the importance of reinforcing measures to address the epidemiological situation in affected areas, especially in the municipality of Ciénaga de Zapata, where several settlements remain flooded. He stressed the urgency of preventative measures, as the coming months are expected to bring more heavy rain.
The president of Cuba’s National Water Resources Institute, Inés María Chapman Waugh, reported that the country’s reservoirs are filled to 84% of capacity and several in the provinces of Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Sancti Spíritus are still releasing water. She noted that all damage to the water distribution system has been repaired, with the exception of the Ciénaga de Zapata.
Construction Minister René Mesa Villafaña reported that more than 9,000 workers and 4,000 pieces of heavy equipment are mobilized and working on the repair of water infrastructure and highways.
He said that preliminary figures indicate that some 10,000 homes were damaged, and called on provinces to employ the local workforce and resources to begin repairs, while reiterating the importance of local production of construction materials that can be made available immediately.