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Irma Aftermath: Most Areas in Cuba are Intact and Programs are Proceeding

Sep 22, 2017 |

From the Field

| by Molly O'Brien

With the news of Hurricane Maria’s arrival in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, Irma is no longer making headlines, but there are still significant and positive updates to report. 

Hurricane Irma made landfall on Friday, September 8th on Cuba’s northeastern provinces.  However, the damage was not as severe as expected and the tenacity and resilience of the Cuban people has been evident. Just two weeks later, the country’s recovery efforts and success have been substantial—so much so that Cuba has sent 750 of their own medical professionals to aid in the relief of other Caribbean nations more severely impacted by the storm.

Impact on upcoming travel to Cuba

Holbrook has been receiving frequent updates from our partners on the ground in Cuba on the country’s progress in recovery and how this will impact travel. They are working tirelessly to assess conditions of roads, destinations, restaurants and facilities that pertain to our programs. As of right now, nearly all of our programs remain unscathed. Our frequented destinations, like Havana, Zapata Peninsula, Trinidad/Cienfuegos, Viñales, Camagüey, Santiago, and Baracoa are functional, and there will be no anticipated impact on programs traveling to these locations for their projected time of travel. Andrea Holbrook said, “Holbrook has a number of groups slated to travel to Cuba as soon as October of this year. We’ve been in close communication with our partners on the Island and we’re thrilled to learn that many of our areas of visitation from the Zapata Peninsula to Baracoa are doing well and tourism there will not be affected.”

However, Cayo Coco and other areas in that region sustained more extensive damage and at this moment we do not have a clear timeline of restoration. For programs traveling to Cayo Coco, we are working to find solutions and make itinerary changes, if necessary for near-term programs. The beach areas of Jibacoa and Varadero—located one and two hours east of Havana respectively—also experienced some damage from the storm. However, the storm did not affect all properties in the region equally and some hotels only require repairs, while others are closed and have extensive damage. We will be evaluating the renovations and making decisions accordingly.

Looking forward

While the damage caused by Hurricane Irma is heartbreaking, most of it is not irreparable. Is it a setback? Yes; but a permanent and hopeless condition? Absolutely not. The people of Cuba prove that their sense of humor and spirit have not been lost and neither has the opportunity to travel to this beautiful country. Now more than ever, Cuba needs your visitation. Based on the inundation of news reports, it may be tempting to cancel travel plans, but recovery is taking place day by day; moment by moment, the country and the people who love it are recovering. As Cuban President Raul Castro said in a public address, “This is not a time to mourn, but to construct again that which the winds of Irma attempted to destroy.”

Real-time updates on conditions in Cuba in Havana, Baracoa

As mentioned, we are in constant contact with our partners and friends in the field in Cuba, and are receiving status updates as they are occurring. Earlier today, we spoke with Ernesto Noriega, one of our collaborators in Havana, and he stated that five days later power is already returning to the city, and schools and stores are beginning to re-open. Ernesto reported, “Our spirit is high and as we Cubans are used to saying, ‘We will overcome!’”

We also spoke with Norge Quintero, a local guide from the city of Baracoa, who offered good news about the conditions there. The hotels in Baracoa and Holguín (Hotel El Castillo, Villa Maguana and Pinares de Mayarí) are fully operative, roads have been reopened, and the bridge in Baracoa over the Toa River impacted by Hurricane Matthew last year is still slated to be open in December.

Furthermore, Geovanny Gonzáles, Director of The Humboldt National Park, reported: the park, The UNESCO Research Center and the lodge camp are all in optimal condition. On a more personal note, our colleague and friend Hiram González and his family weathered the storm successfully and they are doing well. His coastal home located west of Havana, however, did sustain some damage.

Alejandro Llanes, our birding specialist, and his family came through the storm just fine, and there is only minimal damage to the yard in his home.

We are awaiting news and updates from other associates in Cuba who may have been affected by Irma, and hope to hear shortly of their safety and well-being. In the meantime, we continue to work vigorously to keep the lines of communication between Holbrook and Cuba open. After all, many members of our U.S.-based team were also in Irma’s path and aren’t strangers to the storm’s aftermath.

Andrea summed it up best in saying: “Holbrook’s offices and most of our staff are based in Florida. A number of our team members had to evacuate their homes and are experiencing varying levels of impact—from loss of power and water to damages from fallen trees. A storm like Irma that affected the Caribbean and the southeastern United States is just another reminder of how linked these regions are and how many things we share.  The bonds of friendship we feel with our partners in Cuba and the Caribbean are reinforced. We have a lot to gain through collaboration and mutual support.”

If you have specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact your consultant at Holbrook.

How you can help

Cuba was not the only country impacted by the storm. Many islands of the Caribbean, including Barbuda and Antigua, suffered major and widespread devastation. If you’d like to make a donation to support the recovery and restoration efforts, the following are links to relief organizations accepting donations:

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