Cuba prepares itself for the worst

Published: 13 September 2004 0:00 CET

Manuel Rodriguez and Cristina Estrada

"In fifty years we haven’t seen a hurricane like this" says Jose Luis Pedraza, Cuban Red Cross relief director, referring to Hurricane Ivan. "Here in Cuba we call it 'Ivan el Terrible'".

With winds higher than 300 km per hour, category five hurricane Ivan is expected to hit the island in the morning between Sunday and Monday, after leaving 27 persons dead, causing severe damage to 85% of the buildings in Grenada and costly damages in Jamaica.

As part of their emergency preparedness, Cuban authorities, supported by more than 9,000 Red Cross volunteers, have evacuated more than 170,000 people. Eight provinces, out of fourteen, are under maximum alert. Population in Cuba is well prepared and has all the information needed to reduce the impact of the hurricane.

Just less than one month ago, only five people died when category four Hurricane Charley passed over Cuba, showing how seriously Cubans take emergency response procedures. Charley caused one thousand million dollars of losses and an estimated 70,000 houses were severely affected in the island.

“In the emergency shelters Red Cross volunteers are providing psychological support, health assistance and helping with the distribution of food” informs Pedraza. “In addition, all search and rescue Red Cross teams have been activated and ready to intervene”.

The International Federation has launched a preliminary Appeal of 1.39 millions of American dollar, in addition to the 300.000 Swiss francs from the Disaster emergency Fund released. These will be used to provide assistant to 10,000 persons affected by hurricane Ivan on its way through the Caribbean.

“Unlike Charley, hurricane Ivan is bringing lot of water that can cause severe flooding and it’s much bigger, since has a diameter of up to 500 km, with winds of more than 300 km per hour” explains Pedraza.

In the last nine years Cuba has suffered directly the effects of hurricanes Lili, Georges Michelle, Isidore and Charley, in addition to tropical storm Irene. Although these hurricanes were destructive, the implementation of a set of well-organized emergency procedures ensured rapid and orderly evacuations from high-risk areas, reducing the deadly impact.

The International Federation is coordinating with Red Cross National Societies affected preparation, response and rehabilitation activities, and sending relief aid.
In Jamaica a Disaster Management Delegate and an Information delegate have been deployed.

In Grenada two disaster management specialists a member of a field, assessment and coordination team (FACT) are working together with the Grenada Red Cross. For Cuba a team formed by an information delegate, a water and sanitation delegate and a volunteer from Ericsson Response are already in place.