HAVANA – A year after a tornado ripped through Havana, killing seven, injuring more than 200 and destroying 8,000 homes, many people were counting their blessings for being alive while others were recovering from the damage wrought by the storm.
In 16 minutes, the tornado carved an 11.5-kilometre path through four municipalities in the Cuban capital, throwing up cars, ripping down buildings and sparking panic among thousands of residents.
The weather system hit during the night on 27 January 2019 and Havana residents awoke the following day to scenes of destruction.
There was also damage to state-run buildings like health centres and schools.
President Miguel Diaz-Canel immediately mobilized his cabinet to work toward restoring basic services like water and communications after half a million people were left without electricity.
With around 10,000 people displaced, the government slashed the price of building materials and sent teams of construction workers to expedite the recovery.
Some people took refuge in government shelters, others were taken in by relatives and neighbours, but others decided to stay put in whatever was left of their houses.
Ricardo Angeles said he now lives in the Roble area of the Guanabacoa municipality, one of the worst-hit areas.
“The house is already fixed. My wife lived in a shelter and was transferred to a new building. I live with her, my daughter and my sisters-in-law. They gave us rooms with a TV, a bed, everything,” he told EFE.
Miguel Prieto and Norma Viera, a retired couple from the Lawton area, were not as lucky.
“We had to work quite hard for them to give us the materials. In the end, we got them. We managed to do some repairs.”
They said that some of the work had been left incomplete due to financial issues.
“We are both retired, we make very little money and currently things are very expensive, including the masonry,” Prieto said.
The pair must survive on a pension of about 300 pesos ($12) each a month.
“You can’t live on $24,” he said.
Francisco Alberto, 86, said the government had provided him with materials like wood and glass at a low price but it took a year for the repairs to be completed.
“At least we’re alive,” he said.
According to the latest figures, around 60 per cent of the 7,800 houses damaged by the tornado had been restored.
There was a huge relief effort after the tornado hit the city, with Cubans and foreigners alike donating clothes, food and money.
Authorities installed collections points and readied financial aid and several private food organizations sent canned food, bottled water, sheets, towels and blankets.
It was one of the worst storms to hit Havana in recent decades, with winds of up to 300kph.
Meteorologists said the tornado formed as thunderstorms encountered a cold front, accompanied by strong wind and heavy rains.