Reporting is one of the intentions with which a journalist goes out into the streets on a daily basis. In recent days, avenues have been full of vehicles and people hard at work, trying to restore order and daily life in the city of Havana. But despite so much movement, there is a deafening silence in the air, a feeling that leads you to keep your recorder in your pocket and refrain from asking certain questions.
With the sentiment of someone who wants to erase the suffering of those whose lives were turned upside down in minutes, I approach one of the brigades of linemen working to restore power along Vía Blanca road, close to the Chibás neighborhood. However, a woman comes up to me and says: “If you want to measure the strength of a tornado, head for the factory one block away from here.” I turn to see her properly, because the sun is in my face.
Manolys Muñiz Vázquez is general director of the Gepalsi Carpentry, Metalwork, and PVC basic enterprise unit, affiliated with the Construction Materials Enterprise Group, subordinated to the Ministry of Construction, a factory that suffered extensive damage.
“The enterprise was about to declare itself ready for the capital’s 500th anniversary, thanks to all the actions undertaken in November: remodeling, and state-of-the-art machinery ready to go. With the tornado it suffered total collapse,” she explains.
The President of the local government and Havana’s Party Secretary visited the factory to offer their support to workers, who were also assisted by brigades of workers from the Cement Maintenance Enterprise, and of the Cubisa Enterprise. Despite the bleak scenario, Manolys remains optimistic.
“We have had the support of our central enterprise management organization, although the effort we need to make to recover is huge. The workers are in good spirits, we will rebuild in another space that we are already preparing and we will push ahead, all we need is confidence in the enterprise and in our workers,” she stressed.
LINEMEN: ABLE HANDS
Grouped in brigades, linemen are working 12 hour shifts to ensure power is restored as soon as possible to every affected area of the capital. Their work is tough and dangerous, but constant.
Grigor Rodríguez Mesa, chief of Operations for the municipality of Abreus in Cienfuegos province, is in charge of one of the groups restoring primary distribution lines along Vía Blanca road.
“It’s a complicated area, due to the constant flow of vehicles. Working in these conditions makes tasks more difficult, but we also take measures to guarantee the safety of the public and of our workers. Our main concern is to do a good job and provide services as quickly as possible,” he explains.
A few meters ahead, another team has lifted a huge pole. Fidel Ramón González Peña, heading the brigade, also from Cienfuegos, explains that the primary distribution lines are those that people commonly recognize stretching across the largest utility poles, which also carry subtransmission lines, and provide electricity to homes.
“This is the most affected circuit, with the most structures and conductors (cables) on the ground and, of course, the service will be gradually restored as we conclude the repairs,” he notes.
In the midst of the commotion along Luyanó Avenue, Minister of Energy and Mines Raúl García Barreiro joins the brigade leaders to closely monitor the recovery work.
“A hurricane gives you enough time to work out all the logistics and ensure supplies for works, but a tornado is a sudden, unexpected event. However, since dawn on Monday brigades and workers have been mobilized in order to repair all the damage caused,” the Minister reports.
The support brigades come from the provinces of Ciego de Ávila, Sancti Spíritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Mayabeque, Artemisa and Pinar del Río. More than 1,200 linemen distributed in 200 work groups.
Regarding the complete restoration of electricity service, the Minister notes that the fundamental works will be completed in 48 hours. Following the passage of the tornado, more than 200,000 customers were affected and as of Wednesday, January 30, more than 130,000 had seen their service restored. “We are working intensely, and we have all the available material and human resources,” García adds.
An example are the efforts of engineer Carlos Isaac Rodríguez, general director of the Sancti Spíritus Electric Company, in charge of restoring service in four circuits that stretch from Luyanó Avenue, along part of Diez de Octubre Avenue, to the Diez de Octubre Maternity Hospital, an area where 9,000 consumers were affected.
“The Luyanó area was ravaged and the damage extensive. The passage of a phenomena like this is more violent and concentrated; it can even cause more serious damage than that of a high intensity hurricane,” Isaac stresses.
In charge of a contingent of 64 workers including linemen, support personnel, line technicians, and insurance agents, he notes that in cases like this, one works under greater pressure, because with a tornado the damages are very specific, mainly to the primary distribution lines and the largest utility poles. Some residents whose homes weren’t in the tornado’s path become impatient, and fail to understand that although not directly hit, damages a few blocks away also affect their service.
The same opinion is held by Miguel Ángel Mosqueda García, heading a brigade of the José Martí General Contingent: “This type of damage is more violent, tornados destroy everything in their path.”
Although huge efforts are being made to ensure that daily life in the capital returns to normal as soon as possible, as of the 30th, the municipalities of Regla, Habana del Este, Guanabacoa, San Miguel del Padrón and Diez de Octubre continue to experience electrical problems. In the other ten Havana municipalities, power has been fully restored.