Tens of thousands of homes were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Ian in Cuba, government says

Ramón Espinosa/AP

Hurricane Ian, which hit western Cuba last week with Category 3 force winds and brought devastating flooding to the western provinces of Pinar del Río and Artemisa, damaged or destroyed more than 77,000 homes, Cuban authorities said.

According to the Office of the Presidency, 68,370 homes suffered damage in Pinar del Río alone, including 7,664 that were totally destroyed by the storm, which made landfall on the province’s southern coast on Sept. 27 and spent several hours barreling over its territory. More than a thousand people remain in government shelters, the president’s office said on Twitter on Thursday.

More than a week later, most residents in Pinar del Río still have no electricity. Cuba’s electric company has been able to restore service to about 20% of its clients in that province. Many also remain without running water, though authorities have not provided precise numbers.

In nearby Artemisa, where low coastal towns like Batabanó suffered severe flooding, another 9,015 homes were damaged. Of those, 7,200 lost some or all of their roof, the president’s office reported. In some of the most heavily hit towns in Artemisa, like Bahía Honda, only a third of its residents have electricity.

Even in the capital, Havana, which was not directly in the path of Ian’s center, 1,227 homes suffered some damage, authorities said.

The figures come from a government meeting held on Wednesday to check recovery efforts, also reported by Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Despite the widespread devastation, the government said it would sell construction materials and other goods, such as mattresses, for the hurricane victims at half price. Authorities said they would also offer financing options and, in some cases, which must be verified by social workers, total subsidies. But the poor conditions of the private homes destroyed, many made of wood and zinc roofing, suggest these are vulnerable groups with little resources to buy what they need to rebuild. Cuba also has no home insurance system in place.

As Cubans demand freedom, Díaz-Canel says he will not tolerate ‘illegitimate’ protests

In Havana, the site of multiple protests following days of blackouts resulting from the collapse of the country’s electrical grid after the storm, local authorities said most services are back to normal.

According to Justicia 11J, a group tracking arrests of activists and dissidents in Cuba, at least 28 people were arrested during the days-long demonstrations that started out asking for the restoration of electricity and quickly evolved to include political demands. Salomé García Bacallao, an activist with Justicia 11J, said one demonstrator, 38-year-old tattoo artist José Adalberto Fernández Cañizares, was beaten so badly by state security forces that he needed 37 stitches on his face and shoulder. After receiving medical treatment in a hospital in Havana, he was detained and charged with “public disorder” and “contempt of authorities,” she said.

Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel warned protesters that their behavior was “illegitimate” and counterproductive, and hurting the very same people that were supposed to help with their problems.

But residents in some small rural communities in Pinar del Río said government officials were a no-show and that authorities have done little to repair their homes or provide their residents with water, food and medical assistance.

“The town is devastated, and no one has come here to ask us what happened to us,” a resident in Punta de Cartas, a remote coastal community in San Juan y Martínez, in Pinar del Río, told independent news outlet Cubanet.

“The children are starving; they have nothing to eat, no bread, no milk,” another woman said.

‘They were left with nothing’: Cubans in Pinar del Río face uncertain recovery after Hurricane Ian

A short documentary produced by Cubanet shows the town’s residents carrying water tanks in horse-pulled wagons. They said they pumped it from an unsanitary well. Other residents are seen trying to fix some zinc roof tiles “without nails,” a man said.

“What we want is for people to remember we are here,” said another woman. “That people live here.”