Hurricane Matthew in Eastern Cuba: Guantanamo and Holguin Provinces

Eastern Cuba is still healing from the aftermath of the damage caused by hurricane Sandy five years ago this same month. Sandy was a category 2 which devastated mostly the eastern provinces, leaving 11 persons dead and hundreds of homes destroyed, among other damage.

Now comes Hurricane Matthew. A category 4 which the Cuban Institute of Meteorology says was the worst hurricane to hit the zone since one in the year 1514! Matthew made landfall in easternmost Cuba with sustained winds of 140 miles per hour. Guantanamo was by far the most affected province. The hurricane has left thousands without any homes, food, power or shelter. The worst damage took place in the Nipe-SaguaBaracoa Mountains which are some of the most beautiful in Cuba. Baracoa is one of Cuba’s oldest cities with many buildings comparable to those of the French Quarter of New Orleans. A reliable source reported this morning that 85% of the homes were destroyed. The largest and oldest church in Baracoa lost the entire third level and its roof.

EchoCuba is partnering with local evangelical churches in Baracoa and the entire Guantanamo province to provide meals, repair homes, provide clean water and distribute economic aid to those affected by the storm. Food can be purchased from nearby farmers and cities which were not damaged by the storm, and soon we hope to get permission to bring containers of pre-packaged dehydrated meals of rice & soybean from the U.S. to assist the victims. We hope to immediately provide relief supplies and meals to 1,200 victims a day, and then collaborate with the local churches to impact 30,000 with disaster supplies, roofing materials, mattresses, clothing and food. EchoCuba has also pledged to assist in the rebuilding of hundreds of homes and more than 30 church buildings that have suffered severe or total damage.

Most Urgent Needs The most urgent needs are: roofing materials, mattresses, clothing, and food. Right now they need to go to Santiago de Cuba and Holguin to access food, not much food left in Baracoa and Maisi. We have some food stored in secured and safe warehouses located in central Cuba away from the damaged areas this food will be distributed ASAP. We have pledges from food manufacturers in the US and permission for up to 10 containers.

Cash donations are the most efficient form of assistance. Unlike material donations, cash involves no transportation costs, shipping delays, or customs fees. It also enables relief organizations to spend more time providing aid by spending less time managing goods. Cash donations also allow relief supplies to be purchased in markets close to the disaster site, which stimulates the local economy by providing employment and generating cash flow.

Relief Supplies Needed We have now deployed disaster teams throughout the eastern provinces to conduct specific damage assessments, the teams are made up of members of the Los Pinos Nuevos and the two Baptists Conventions. Typical relief supplies are usually shelter materials, blankets, hygiene kits, household items, and water purification equipment-for Cuba it will be difficult to ensure they are available to help the communities affected with emphasis on Baracoa.

We are trying to divert a shipment of relief supplies from a donor in Cincinnati from Havana to the port of Santiago de Cuba which is closer to the disaster zone. An update on the collaboration efforts is that we have contacted other international partners, and non-governmental organizations to secure relief supplies as requested by their churches in the zone. Our main concern is to facilitate disaster relief operations to rapidly reduce the suffering of the victims so to that degree we are strategically guiding our Cuban partners to organize distribution and obtain the necessary permits from the government so we can send them the needed supplied.