10 days later, Cubans still recovering from Hurricane Ian

  • A teacher dries out books at a school that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A teacher dries out books at a school that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • Workers recover tobacco from a drying barn that was destroyed one week ago by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    Workers recover tobacco from a drying barn that was destroyed one week ago by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • Tobacco farmer Hirochi Robaina drives his tractor past destroyed tobacco barns on his farm one week after Hurricane Ian in San Luis, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022

    Tobacco farmer Hirochi Robaina drives his tractor past destroyed tobacco barns on his farm one week after Hurricane Ian in San Luis, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022 Associated Press

  • Javier Diaz poses for a photo next to his home that was destroyed by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    Javier Diaz poses for a photo next to his home that was destroyed by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • A resident drives his horse-drawn cart past trees destroyed by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A resident drives his horse-drawn cart past trees destroyed by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • Residents affected by Hurricane Ian walk home with drinking water in containers in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    Residents affected by Hurricane Ian walk home with drinking water in containers in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • Odelaise Ramos, who is eight and a half months pregnant, rests at a school-turned-shelter after her home became inhabitable due to Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Roo province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Ramos said she decided to name her child Ian, after the storm.

    Odelaise Ramos, who is eight and a half months pregnant, rests at a school-turned-shelter after her home became inhabitable due to Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Roo province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Ramos said she decided to name her child Ian, after the storm. Associated Press

  • A resident left homeless by Hurricane Ian holds an empty bowl as he waits for his turn to eat at a school-turned-shelter in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A resident left homeless by Hurricane Ian holds an empty bowl as he waits for his turn to eat at a school-turned-shelter in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • Children play ball in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, one week after Hurricane Ian.

    Children play ball in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, one week after Hurricane Ian. Associated Press

  • Residents whose homes became inhabitable due to Hurricane Ian get a hot meal at a school-turned-shelter in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    Residents whose homes became inhabitable due to Hurricane Ian get a hot meal at a school-turned-shelter in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • A volunteer cleans a roofless classroom at a school that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A volunteer cleans a roofless classroom at a school that was heavily damaged by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • People collect drinking water from a tanker truck one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    People collect drinking water from a tanker truck one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • A man helps load a trailer with the belongings of his friends, who are moving the items to a home in better conditions, one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A man helps load a trailer with the belongings of his friends, who are moving the items to a home in better conditions, one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • Residents walk along a street left dark one week prior by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    Residents walk along a street left dark one week prior by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • Mari Carmen Zambrano poses for a photo on her broken and wet bed as she dries it outside her home that lost its roof to Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    Mari Carmen Zambrano poses for a photo on her broken and wet bed as she dries it outside her home that lost its roof to Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • An apple vendor stands amid playing children in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, a week after Hurricane Ian.

    An apple vendor stands amid playing children in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, a week after Hurricane Ian. Associated Press

  • A worker repairs power lines downed by Hurricane Ian along a road where people travel by horse-drawn carts in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A worker repairs power lines downed by Hurricane Ian along a road where people travel by horse-drawn carts in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • People line up at a tanker truck distributing drinking water amid the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    People line up at a tanker truck distributing drinking water amid the aftermath of Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • A resident uses a can of benzine for light while electricity is down one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, after sunset Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A resident uses a can of benzine for light while electricity is down one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, after sunset Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • A youth plays amid the remains of a home destroyed by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    A youth plays amid the remains of a home destroyed by Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, in the province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

  • The Ramos family cooks dinner over a fire outside their storm-damaged home that continues without electricity one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022.

    The Ramos family cooks dinner over a fire outside their storm-damaged home that continues without electricity one week after Hurricane Ian in La Coloma, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/7/2022 8:23 AM

LA COLOMA, Cuba -- Soldiers fix roofs and raise power poles under a blazing sun, while teachers salvage wet school books and residents cook over wood fires in La Coloma, a fishing and industrial town on Cuba's coast that took the brunt of Hurricane Ian.

Ten days after the storm left still unquantified devastation across western Cuba, and knocked out the power grid nationwide, many Cubans are still without electricity, water or basic goods. The destruction from Ian has piled onto the hardship of people who had already been suffering through scarcity and shortages in recent years.

 

'The ceiling was damaged, the mattress got wet,' said homemaker Yaneysi Polier, who looked scared as she stirred a pot with pressed ham and lard cooking over coals on the floor of the patio of her house. Her still-wet mattress was in the sun drying.

'The refrigerator was found in the mud by our neighbor's house. We set up something to sleep on. The water was up to our chests,' she said.

Only 15% of western Pinar del Río province has electricity and no one has their power back in La Coloma, a town of some 7,000 people 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Havana.

Repeated blackouts on Cuba's already fragile electric grid were among the causes of the island's largest social protests in decades in July 2021. Thousands of people, weary of power failures and shortages of goods exacerbated by the pandemic and U.S. sanctions, turned out in cities across the island to vent their anger and some also lashed out at the government. Hundreds were arrested and prosecuted, prompting harsh criticism of the administration of President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

The recent arrival of Ian caused three deaths and in Pinar del Rio province damaged 63,000 homes, thousands of which were destroyed. Cuba had a deficit of about 800,000 houses even before the hurricane struck.

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La Coloma is home to the state Industrial Fishing Combine, which processes 40% of the lobster caught on the island, most of which is exported. It also processes bonito and snapper fish, and residents say it was high season when Ian struck. Twelve fishing boats were damaged, some sunk.

Maribel Rodríguez is staying in an emergency shelter in a primary school along with her pregnant daughter-in-law, who is about to give birth. She said they will name the baby Ian.

'This hurricane took everything from me,' Rodríguez said. 'My house was not good, but it had many things of value - a refrigerator, a television, living room furniture, beds and kitchenware - and I had earned those with my sacrifice. This is very painful.'

Both Rodríguez and her son work in the fishing plant complex and they worry about it shutting down in the middle of lobster season.

'Here, the only place to work is the combine and I have been there for many years. You have to make a living,' she said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Ian hit Cuba with winds of more than 125 mph (200 kph) on Sept. 27. It not only affected Pinar de Rio, but also the provinces of Artemisa, Mayabeque and Havana More than 30,000 people were evacuated ahead of the hurricane's arrival.

Besides the damage to houses, the power infrastructure and industry, the Ministry of Agriculture estimated that Ian damaged 8,583 hectares (21,210 acres) of crops in the three provinces, especially bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes, corn, rice and tomatoes.

Cuba's gross domestic product fell 11% in 2020 amid the pandemic and only rose 2% in 2021. Tourism has not recovered from the COVID-19 travel paralysis and U.S. sanctions pressing for political change in the island continue to squeeze its economy. Authorities expect the damage from Ian to further batter the economy.

Along with La Coloma, one of the hardest hit municipalities was nearby San Luis, a region that produces some of the best tobacco in the world.

Tobacco grower Hiroshi Robaina, looking at his devastated drying houses and seedbeds, thinks that this year he will have to plant his fields with beans.

'I doubt very much there can be any tobacco production this year because there is no infrastructure,' he said. 'The damage to the nurseries was monstrous.'

Robaina, whose plantation is so important it has its own brand, said, 'A miracle has to happen.'

He said at least 100 small tobacco farmers suffered losses of 100% and called for the government to subsidize reconstruction. Pinar del Río contributes 80% of the tobacco that Cuba produces.

'Tobacco, although it is not something that is going to save the Cuban economy, is an export item,' said Ricardo Torres, a Cuban economist and researcher at the Center for Latin American Studies at American University in Washington. 'In Cuba, with what little there is, what is lost is very bad news.'

'This is a country that at this time does not have resources,' Torres said.

___

Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP

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