Hurricane Sandy's impact has yet to fade in Santiago de Cuba

Santiago de Cuba is still recovering from Oct. 25, 2012 storm

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba - Three years ago, Hurricane Sandy barreled through the southeastern tip of the island and left death and destruction in its wake. It ripped down tree branches. There were toppled light posts.

In its sweep, it isolated communities and wreaked havoc. And while it grew into a Category 2 storm, it killed 11 people in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo. It was the deadliest storm since Hurricane Dennis in 2005, Cuban authorities said.

The storm damaged sugar, banana and coffee crops and about 200,000 structures. It also flooded wells, which later lead to a dengue and cholera outbreaks in one of the most densely populated areas of the country. Imarys Rosales remembers there were downed power lines on the dangerous hilly roads of the 500-year-old city of Santiago de Cuba.

"It was a disastrous thing. Santiago was completely devastated," Rosales said in Spanish. "Every block was full of debris. We suffered 18 days without electricity."

It took at least a month for the government's Empresa Electrica to restore the electrical grid. Although the Cuban Red Cross had support from the German, Norwegian and Spanish societies, in 2013 there were many "in desperate need of assistance" and some some 160,000 households in Santiago and Holguin "without a proper roof," according to the Red Cross.

Although there were homes that haven't seen fresh paint in decades, the roofs that Sandy blew away were back in place.

There was plenty of structural damage left behind. The storm packed an economic punch on the already financially strapped Santiagueros, as the natives of Santiago de Cuba are known, share homes that are sometimes in shambles.

Rebuilding efforts were more feasible for those who have the support of U.S. and European remittances. But there are few, since the more affluent have reportedly been moving to western provinces without notifying authorities.

Government aid included selling victims tools and construction materials on loan and at reduced prices.

A drought is hurting the agricultural sector, which used to have the highest coffee production in the country. The coffee production this year will meet government's expectations with some 307,000 cans, according to Cuban media, a Communist government stalwart.

Local media also regularly covers stories of the island's accomplishment of long life expectancy. By 2030 they expect one million will be over 75. But retirees have to scrape by on $12 a month, which many say is not enough to eat. Most recently the government reported there is an ongoing project to build 10 new homes for the elderly.

Many view this and other forms of government investment as signs of recovery. Rosales remains positive. Although the city struggles with attracting foreigners -- since most prefer Havana and Varadero -- tourists, she said, "are surprised when they see how Santiago has recovered fast."



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