This Is What Hurricane Irma Is Doing To Travel In Cuba
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Hurricane Irma ravaged its way through Cuba this past weekend before making landfall in Florida, barreling over Havana’s famous Malecón seawalk with 32-foot waves and over 125 mph winds. Irma also wreaked havoc on Cuba’s northern coast, including Varadero, another city popular with visitors. Local media reports that 10 people have been killed.
US citizens in Cuba were warned by the US State Department last Wednesday via Twitter, advising that there was only a limited time for safe departure. The tweet also urged Americans to monitor current storm warnings and evacuation alerts, and of course, to keep their passports dry.
Although airports and train stations were closed over the weekend, both the Varadero and Havana airports are scheduled to reopen Tuesday September 12, and flights should be operating as normal by mid-afternoon. However, it’s not a good idea to head to Cuba anytime soon, as you can see the flooding has hit Havana, as well as many other cities and coastal areas, hard. Many areas are still without electricity.
Cuba is known for its hurricane preparations, an experience it has honed weathering dozens of tropical storms and hurricanes. The impoverished country doesn’t have the resources to build new hurricane-proof structures, so instead the government focuses on evacuation and focusing on proper preparation for the storm so the recovery won’t be as tough. The the Civil Defense division (EMNDC) sprung into action starting last Tuesday, launching full-force Irma preparations. First, it made sure citizens in the affected regions were aware of the storm and were monitoring the national weather information.
Cubans are taught to prepare for hurricanes from early on. Even little kids have storm evacuation drills in primary school, and as they get older, they learn how to monitor neighborhoods to identify possible threats, like trees that may topple or windows that could blow out during strong winds.
Community leaders, like teachers, firefighters and doctors are responsible for and trained to help their local population during evacuations. Each household possesses a copy of an evacuation plan and evacuation drills are a regular occurrence in many coastal Cuban provinces.
48 hours before Irma hit, residents were told to evacuate, but no one was forced, except pregnant mothers or ones with small children, who can be fined if they don’t evacuate. Missing work or looting aren’t concerns, mainly because most Cubans work for the government anyway and don’t have a lot of material possessions people can steal.
Between 700,000 and one million people in high-risk zones were evacuated, including 36,000 of the 51,000 tourists vacationing in the country, according to media reports from Cuban and international sources. Many tourists are still stuck in Cuba and tour agencies are working on adding extra flights to take them home when the airports reopen.
Canada, along with some Latin American countries such as Argentina, was able to evacuate its citizens out of Cuba ahead of the storm last Thursday, but British tourists didn’t have as much luck, and were among the many that evacuated to shelters, homes and schools alongside the Cuban locals. Starting tomorrow when the airports reopen, British tour agencies like Thomas Cook will be sending extra flights to get their citizens back to to the UK.
Besides locals and tourists, Cuba was even able to evacuate some dolphins located in a marine center at risk.
Despite the organized attempts to prevent the worst from happening, the damage is heavy. “This storm’s a Category 5, if it gets us it’ll rip us apart,” a Cuban man said before the storm, according to Spanish-language news site Primera Hora. Now that the storm has passed, it appears that his fears have not quite come entirely true.
Featured image by Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images.
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