Sandy left wake of disease in Cuba

While sections of the East Coast of the United States are still totaling up the damage from Superstorm Sandy, much of Cuba is overwhelmed by destruction and disease caused by what one U.N. official called the most severe storm to hit the island nation in half a century.

Already, outbreaks of cholera and dengue fever have been reported in eastern parts of the country, with residents in three provinces - Santiago de Cuba, Las Tunas and Guantanamo - saying some municipalities have been placed under quarantine.

Public health authorities have not yet officially acknowledged the outbreaks.

Meanwhile, storm damage to property was exacerbated by the poor condition of many buildings.

Even before Sandy struck, officials knew the storm posed a serious threat.

Lazaro Exposito Canto, head of the Provincial Defense Council in Santiago de Cuba, made a last-minute announcement on television and radio, warning "it's not looking good. Citizens whose homes are in poor condition should take precautions and all necessary steps to avoid loss of life." Few heard his message, however, since most people in the province had lost power by the time it was broadcast.

Preliminary damage reports, published in the country's youth newspaper, Juventud Rebelde, indicated that more than 4,200 homes had collapsed, 27,000 had lost their roofs entirely and 17,000 had damaged roofs in the province alone.

President Raul Castro, who visited the stricken city of Santiago soon after the storm, heard how local residents managed to survive.

"In the middle of the night, the roof of my house was blown off by strong winds," one woman told the president. "Thanks to the support of a neighbor I was evacuated along with my children, husband and other neighbors in the mist of the cyclone. By the morning, everything had been destroyed, houses flattened, and lots of people were crying as they'd lost everything they owned."

Today, more than a month after the storm, the main concern for many is the spread of disease.

Residents of Las Tunas, Santiago de Cuba, Guantanamo and Granma provinces say doctors and other health workers are actively inspecting houses and heavily populated areas to curb the diseases.

Meanwhile, tight security is being imposed to prevent word from spreading about the extent of the disease. One eyewitness said police and security-service officers are guarding infectious disease wards at clinics and hospitals to prevent news of the scale of the infection from leaking out.

Roberto de Jesus Guerra Perez is a reporter and founder of the Hablemos Press news agency in Cuba. He wrote this for The Institute for War & Peace Reporting.


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