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Cubans struggling weeks after storms

Cubans struggling weeks after storms

A month after two hurricanes inflicted the worst storm damage in Cuba's
history, parts of the Caribbean island remain devastated.

One of the most badly affected communities was Los Palacios, in the
western province of Pinar del Rio, which took direct hits from the
hurricanes, Gustav and Ike.

The BBC's Michael Voss visited the battered town, which is only now
beginning to recover.

Heading out of on the main road west to Pinar del Rio, at first
there are few signs of hurricane damage.

Then the highway becomes flanked by uprooted trees. The final approach
to Los Palacios is marked by fallen high tension electrical pylons.

One remains half-standing but is bent and twisted like a straw.

A month on and about 20% of the province remains without electricity.

At about five o'clock in the afternoon of 30 August, Hurricane Gustav
came ashore at Los Palacios as a category four storm with sustained
winds of 150mph (240km/h)

Then on 9 September, Hurricane Ike made landfall in exactly the same spot.

The winds were not quite as fierce but the torrential downpours were

Idalmys Batancourt, along with most of her neighbours, took refuge in a
nearby brick church.

The revolution has always helped us in the past. I hope it continues
and one day we will get a new house
Idalmys Batancourt

She returned to find her wooden house all but flattened.

What was not blown down by Gustav was washed away in the floods from Ike.

"Everything was devastated, destroyed," Idalmys said, pointing to the
bare foundations of what had been her living room and kitchen.

She now has a makeshift shelter built over a corner of her former home
from salvaged pieces of wood and other materials.

She is hoping that the government will eventually help them with a new home.

"The revolution has always helped us in the past. I hope it continues
and one day we will get a new house."

'Good planning'

But for a country already facing acute shortages of building material
and heavy machinery, the task will not be easy.

About 80% of homes in Los Palacios were damaged, almost a quarter
completely destroyed.

Yet no-one was killed and there were only a few minor injuries.

The municipal head of the Communist Party, Emilio Triana, put this down
to "good planning, organisation and discipline".

Cuba prides itself on its well-rehearsed and organised evacuation plans.

On both occasions, half the population of 40,000 were moved to shelters.

The Cubans are also masters of rallying around in times of crisis and
making do with what they have got.

Of the 45 schools in the Los Palacios, only four are functioning today.

Yet almost every child continues to get an education.

Mother-of-two Emilia Piloto is one of dozens of parents whose homes were
relatively undamaged and who volunteered to open them up as temporary

There are about 25 primary children squeezed into a covered patio
at the rear of her house.

Yellow sheets are strung up across one side to shade them from the sun
or give protection from the rain.

"Right now the country needs it," Ms Piloto explained.

"We must all help each other. We must share what we have. Conditions are
dreadful which is why we must keep our children studying, so they can
have new opportunities in life."

Foreign aid

But when it comes to accepting aid and assistance from abroad politics
starts to get in the way.

There are teams of Venezuelan builders in Los Palacios, sent by Cuba's
regional ally, President Hugo .

They are busy putting new roofs on damaged school buildings.

Russia and have also stepped in with aid.

But the government here has turned down offers of help from most
European Union countries as well as the United States.

Instead the authorities are insisting that the US suspend its trade
so that Cuba can buy building materials on credit.

This communist island's was already struggling before the
hurricanes hit.

Now there are 200,000 people homeless, along with shortages.

A third of all crops were destroyed and it is going to take six months
to a year for the section to get back on its feet.

Rebuilding homes and infrastructure, especially with limited assistance
from abroad, could take much, much longer.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/10/07 23:07:54 GMT

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