Rebuilding lives in Cuba's Granma province after Hurricane Dennis

Bayamo, Cuba, August 16, 2005-It was late in the evening when members of the civil defence and local government officials came to the door of Juana Hernandez Fuentes, with the warning, "There is a hurricane approaching and we are evacuating everyone to a safer area."
At first, Juana thought this was part of the exercise that the Cuban Civil Defence goes through this time every year. Then she recalled that they had the exercise just several days ago. People also seemed to be more serious this time displaying a sense of urgency. She realized that this was not an exercise, but the real thing.

Juana is now staying in an elementary school room in the city of Pilón with all seven members of her family. Her house in "la Marina", on the coast of the city of Pilón, was destroyed by Hurricane Dennis when it lashed Cuba's coast between July 7 and 9 this year. She is one of the 57 people remaining in the shelter in the local school, until she has a new home to go to. The school originally housed over 500 people-overall, 56,000 people were evacuated in the province.

"One of our major priorities is to get families whose homes were partially destroyed and with roofs blown away back in their homes as soon as possible," says José Marín. He is the liaison person for religious matters who accompanied a delegation of the Cuban Council of Churches (CCC)-a member of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International-to Granma.

Some 700 people are still sheltered in schools in the region and the school year is not far off, with classes starting on September 5. In total 23,000 roofs in Granma were partially or completely ruined by the hurricane. Already, 7,000 roofs have been repaired.

"Hurricane Dennis was the worst hurricane to hit Cuba's Granma province in years. The damages and casualties were the highest even though the country has experienced several category 4 and 5 hurricanes the last four years," says Juan González, the vice-president of the administrative council of the Province in Granma.

"For most in Granma, we are not accustomed to having hurricanes pass this area of Cuba. The last cyclone was Flora in 1963. The effect of Dennis has been devastating in our region. 42,000 homes have been damaged. Of these, 15,000 were totally destroyed. 360 schools are in need of repairs and 29 will need to be totally rebuilt," he explains.

The Granma region is predominantly rural, with agriculture it's main source of income. Hurricane Dennis laid waste to coffee, plantain, grapefruit, mango, orange, yucca and corn crops.

Juana considers herself lucky. The local authorities have been providing two meals a day for her family, while she is living in the shelter and she is confident that she will have a new home in future.

CCC through is local network of churches and regional coordination teams is also ready to respond to the crisis in Granma.

"Our goal is to provide food for a month to 1,000 families and to senior citizens and pregnant women in Piron and Niquero, two municipalities in Granma," says the president of CCC, Rhode Gonzales. "This is an area of great need and very far from Havana or other major cities."

Additionally, CCC will provide health kits, sewing kits, mattresses and sheets to the families.