HAVANA – As Manhattan begins to recover from this year's Frankenstorm, with subways running through tunnels again and lights shining brightly downtown, another city impacted by Hurricane Sandy continues to struggle.
The superstorm that wrecked havoc in the northeast also slammed Santiago de Cuba. The city's electrical grid has been restored to only 28 percent as workers attempt to replace power lines around the clock downed by thousands of fallen trees.
“Sources in (state-run power company) Empresa Electrica emphasized that the task is titanic since it means building practically all of the secondary networks from the ground up,” said Cuban news agency Prensa Latina on Monday. The agency also revealed that those are the ones “that deliver energy to homes and were the most impaired.”
Meanwhile, for a city of about 500,000 people, Santiago has tried to recover promptly. Much of the storm debris has been cleared from the streets and students went back to school on Monday. Residents are stating stores are offering early sales of basic foods that have been planned for distribution later in the year. People unable to cook in their darkened homes are now relying on canned goods and the few with power are assisting their neighborhoods by boiling their water or allowing them to charge cell phones.
Sandy hit southeastern Cuba on October 25th at a Category 2 hurricane, killing 11 people and damaging more than 200,000 homes, causing major losses to coffee and other crops. Communist Party newspaper Granma is reporting that around 895 schools in Santiago were damaged and some classes were held in homes located in neighboring Holguin province. While many schools were repaired and functioning again on Monday, 129 were destroyed, leaving students to gather in private homes, libraries, cultural centers and movie theaters. Some students were sent to other schools.
Hospitals, fire and water stations, as well as bakeries and tall buildings in Santiago were receiving priority power service. Electrical grid repairs were expected to finish by November 15 with the help of crews drafted from across the country.
President Raul Castro remained in Santiago during his tour of the hardest-hit zones, promising to personally ensure that recovery efforts continue.
“We all know the problems you have. Do not lose faith in the revolution,” said Castro on television over the weekend. “I will remain here until the electricity returns.”
Authorities have not yet given an estimate of the total economic toll.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.