Cubans Count the Cost of Lili's Fury
Cubans Count the Cost of Lili's Fury
Oct. 20, 1996
SANTA CLARA, Cuba (AP) _ Gonzalo Hernandez stood knee-deep in the water that was flooding his ruined crops and, like tens of thousands of other Cubans, took stock of the damage wrought by Hurricane Lili.
At first, Cubans were relieved that Lili did not strike Havana directly or kill anyone when it smashed across the island Friday. But by Sunday, the extent of the damage was setting in.
Uprooted utility poles and flooded sugar cane fields, collapsed houses and damaged sugar mills bear witness to the power of Lili, the first major hurricane to hurt Cuba since Kate struck in 1985.
Lili passed southeast of Bermuda on Sunday and moved into the open Atlantic, where it was expected to weaken.
Official Cuban damage reports indicated that the hurricane might have caused serious harm to an economy strained to near the breaking point by the collapse of Cuba's socialist trading partners in 1989 and 1990.
Agriculture Minister Alfredo Jordan said Sunday that it would take more than a year to return to production levels recorded at the end of September. ``It will be a heroic task,'' he said, ``far greater than that we undertook after Kate.''
Hernandez's wife agreed, lamenting that their rice crop was completely lost, its kernels whipped from the plants by Lili's 90-mph winds and blown into a lake of mud left by torrents of rain.
``So we have no seeds to plant next year,'' Margarita Cruz said.
Hernandez is a ``machetero,'' a cane cutter who has his own plot on a cooperative outside Santa Clara, 155 miles southeast of Havana.
The couple's wooden shack was flooded by two feet of water when Lili tore away half the asbestos roof. A mattress and cushions were set on a cactus hedge surrounding the home, drying in the post-hurricane sunshine.
``Ninety percent of everything we planted this year is finished, finished,'' Hernandez said, jerking a grizzled head toward sugar cane bent to the ground, plantain trees denuded of their branches, green oranges ripped from trees and pools of water that drowned root and bean crops.
``Life was hard before. After Lili it's going to be a lot harder,'' he said. A lot harder, too, for an agricultural sector damaged by a 1993 storm and an already ailing economy.
Lili has struck a ``very hard'' blow, President Fidel Castro said Saturday when he toured the most devastated areas in central Cuba, including Santa Clara. The hurricane came as Cubans were preparing for the sugar cane harvest, crucial for government hopes of increasing overall economic production by 5 percent.
Initial figures indicate that more than 1 million tons of food crops were destroyed. Castro said some of the country's best citrus orchards and plantain plantations were hard hit.
Lili blew away just-maturing coffee beans and seriously damaged the tobacco harvest, which was just beginning. Civil Defense headquarters in Havana reported 43,000 homes destroyed and 30,000 damaged.
State television showed people in Villa Clara province returning by boat Sunday to homes still inundated by water, with furniture and other belongings whirled into piles of trash by the hurricane.
In Santa Clara, the provincial capital, government officials estimated that 90 percent of the province's plantain crop was lost, huge tracts of sugar cane were under water and some 30 sugar mills were damaged, mostly with torn roofs.
The entire province was without electricity, and utility officials warned it could take at least a week to restore.
The local state radio station urged workers to be in the fields at 6 a.m. to try to save what they could of the plantain crop.
An hour's drive from Santa Clara, the town of Aguada, which means watering hole, had lived up to its name. Officials had opened the flood gates of a dam, inundating scores of acres of crops and turning three miles of highway into a fast-running river.
Several cars were stranded in the highway, and a truck was tilted into a ditch, its cab covered by water. A half-dozen Cuban men, eager to earn some money, stood in the water all day, offering their services to waterlogged vehicles.
``That's the Cuban way,'' one of the men joked. ``Even out of disaster we have to try to make some profit.''