Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Cuban coastal dweller to relocate far from the sea

IPS: She was born, grew up and lived all her life just a few steps from the sea, in the part of the city that everyone knows simply as La Playa (the beach). Although she was lucky enough to return to a home and belongings that withstood Hurricane Paloma’s mighty waves, Iramis Rodríguez has made up her mind to move inland. "If they’ll take me, I’ll go," the 30-year-old Santa Cruz resident told IPS. Rodríguez is part of the janitorial staff in a government facility located "right here in Santa Cruz," she says.

…Some 3,000 people were killed that day in 1932, "stabbed" by all sorts of objects that were hurled through the air by the powerful winds, trapped inside their homes, swallowed up by the sea as it pulled back, or scorched among the debris burnt by order of the authorities who wanted to prevent an epidemic at all costs. This time, when the families returned on Nov. 11 to this town located some 600 kilometres east of Havana, the landscape they found was both similar and different to the one left 76 years ago. Dogs with glazed eyes roamed streets that had turned alien; here and there an animal was trapped under boards. But the community had survived.

…More than 20,000 people were evacuated from Santa Cruz del Sur, a municipality of 49,900 people, as Hurricane Paloma -- the third major hurricane to hit Cuba this year -- approached. While in 1932, the entire town was left waiting for an evacuation train that never arrived, this time not a single person stayed back in the poor district of La Playa.

…Cuba has suffered an estimated 10 billion dollars in losses from the damages caused by hurricanes Gustav, Ike and Paloma, when they stormed through the island on Aug. 30, Sept. 8-9, and Nov. 9, respectively. But statistics say nothing of all the memories the hurricanes took with them: family photographs, children’s toys, books painstakingly collected by a local teacher throughout her life. "If you were given the chance to leave this place, would you go?" IPS asked more than 15 La Playa residents. The answer, in a sad but firm tone, was invariably yes.

That seems to be the only solution possible for communities like Santa Cruz del Sur, Cajío, Guanimar, or so many others, which year after year live under the threat posed by the sea. In 2002, an official report calculated that there were 244 neighbourhoods, villages or towns, home to 1.4 million people, that were vulnerable to coastal floods…

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