A year has passed since that night on January 27, 2019, when more than 1,200 Haban families lived in their own flesh the devastating effects of a tornado. Capitals wholly oblivious to such a weather event were surprised at night with winds of 300 kilometers, a speed that defined this phenomenon as category F4 on the Fujita-Pearson scale. The municipalities of Regla, Guanabacoa and Diez de Octubre were the hardest hit.
Designed to care for those affected by natural disasters, the Havana Caritas Emergency and Humanitarian Aid Program responded quickly to the devastating pace of the weather event. The then-moving picture was: “five deceased and 195 injured, considerable household losses, hundreds of family nuclei left without the cover of a roof, with nothing material and extreme needs.”1
Faced with this reality, the diocesan team of Caritas Habana toured the affected municipalities and exchanged with parish priests, members of the communities, affected, religious and religious in the most damaged places and soon began the delivery of food of first need: water, bread, canned cans and milk. Blankets and candles were also given to those who needed them. Homes with children and the elderly were prioritized. Accompanying families in their pain was undoubtedly the most humane response of the time.
In addition to this work, the diocesan Caritas supported the creation and operation of emerging canteens, where food was prepared for hundreds of people. This service was first activated in the church of Jesus of the Mount, but was soon enabled in the parish Christ the Redeemer and in the chapel of Our Lady of Guadalupe, both in the municipality of Regla. Finally, two other dining rooms appeared, in the Community of the Escolapio Fathers in Guanabacoa and in the Casa de Cáritas of the same municipality. Undoubtedly, this purpose required constant communication with communities in order to accompany them, supply them with inputs and make the diagnosis of needs to the families most in need. According to the record, more than 800 people received feeding services during the first two weeks after the tornado passed.
For children, volunteers from the GDH (Human Development Groups) Program in Caritas Habana organized cultural and recreational activities.
While all this was going on, the solidarity of Catholics and people in general was expressed through collections that were spontaneously organized in the Habanera communities and other dioceses of the country. Thus, there were many spaces converted into warehouses where clothes, shoes and other items of personal use were classified that were daily delivered to the people who needed it most.
As this first stage of emergency response progressed, an uprising began that included the development of a form to record the persons affected and report all their losses, so that there would be organized and efficient control and distribution of resources. This work was not limited to temple space, it also included visits to homes and other areas where people were affected. For these tours, the support of the volunteers of the Parish Caritas, seminarians, young Catholics, religious and priests was decisive.
A year later
In the months following the passage of the tornado through the Cuban capital, the diocesan team of Caritas Habana continued to update the database with the victims’ records served and continued to register new families who were visited by volunteers to identify their real needs.
According to quantified impacts in homes in the municipalities Ten of October, Guanabacoa and Regla, deliveries of mattresses, beds and modules with household items (electric pressure cooker or rice cooker and conventional pressure, quilt, sheets and towels) were organized.
In the municipality Ten of October, the humanitarian organization and the Habanera Church have had the support of social workers, who together with the volunteers have visited people and delivered aid; cooperation that is appreciated and creates work patterns for the future.
According to a recent report by Caritas Habana, the aid provided has not been limited to those affected by the tornado. While this is the fundamental purpose of the institution’s action for this period, fans and kitchens have also been handed over to exceptional cases detected during visits, including elderly men, single mothers with several children, the sick, people with disabilities, etc.
Until the closure of this article, 1,810 families benefited from the modules or mattresses were registered in the municipalities of Diez de Octubre, Regla and Guanabacoa. The families visited are almost twice as many as those served.
Equity in aid
In early August, Palabra Nueva accompanied the fourth installment of Cáritas Habana to affected families in the municipality of Regla. This time, the aid included 84 modules and 126 mattresses. In a very orderly manner, and in correspondence with the uprising carried out, the affected persons were cared for in an area enabled for this purpose in the parish Christ the Redeemer.
Elizabeth Pérez Aguiar and Agneris Brindis García are volunteers of this Reglan community attended by the Redemptorist Fathers. Both have been visiting homes since the tornado passed through the town. Thanks to their work, and that of other committed people, the most alarming cases have been recorded, to which others who, although not directly affected by the weather event, have been able to record very poor living conditions.
These two volunteers agree that the greatest gratitude of the beneficiaries is to God, “who forgets no one and sees the pain and suffering of all,” Elizabeth says. Agneris, when he tries to describe the emotion he has contemplated in those who favor each other with this help, but finds it difficult. “Many cry, we talk about people who lost almost everything they had in their homes. Some told us that they had been recorded in lists organized by the state and the government of the municipality, but until the time of our visit they had received nothing. They were very frustrated. That we got to them was like seeing a light in so much darkness. Everyone, without exception, appreciated this gesture of the Church.”
Elizabeth, for her part, tells of the experience she lived with an old man alone, to which they had to bathe and shave, to accommodate a little the unfessed place where she lived, to hand over sheets, shoes, some clothes and food. “I couldn’t find a way to thank us. The abandonment he was in was terrible; I can’t explain how he was still alive. When we left, he kept squeezing our hands, it was like he didn’t want us to leave. Without a doubt, it is a case that must continue to be accompanied.”
Elizabeth and Agneris know that what they give is little. “But in such sorrow, it is relief that rejoices the soul,” says the second. Like them, many other volunteers have been visiting homes for several weeks in the three municipalities most affected by the tornado. The purpose, in addition to knowing the real need for help, has been to accompany the family, the person.
Raydel Mirabal and Alejandro Ariosa González lead the Emergency and Humanitarian Aid Program in Caritas Cuba and Havana, respectively. They clarify that not all families visited qualify to receive the donation. “The decision,” Raydel says, depends on the judgment of the visitors, who observe the real needs of people at the site. What you want is to reach those most in need, the most helpless, the most forgotten. We seek fairness in aid.”
According to Ariosa González, the pre-visit deliveries in August 2019 were made between June 7 and July 29. “In all of them there have been modules and mattresses, even, we have taken the help to the affected person’s own house, because we also take into account the situation in which the person is located, if he is very old, he is ingested or sick, etc.”.
For her part, Migdalia Dopico Paz, director of Cáritas Habana identifies as the most relevant of all this humanitarian work, “the work of volunteering, its dedication and commitment. These people have stayed for hours and hours with the diocesan team of Caritas. It is also right to recognize the delivery, cohesion and availability of those in the Emergency and Humanitarian Aid Programme. To thank, of course, donors, those people of goodwill who, from outside Cuba, and also from within, have made possible the help that has been offered and offered.”
For those who lost everything like Fredys Dueñas Pedroso, worker of ETECSA, husband and father of two children, the tornado of January 27, 2019 is an unforgettable event in his life. He knows that recovering will be difficult, both materially and spiritually. However, God continues to give thanks, “and I do it every day,” he says, “because in the midst of so much pain, I still believe in the human being and that instinct or desire that accompanies us to help the brother. I am not Catholic, perhaps that is why I cannot thank the Church, but I am grateful to the people who have come to me and even my family to give us their help, even when we needed it most, in the midst of anguish that consumed us. These people make God’s Love for all a reality, regardless of race, creed, social status. To them and to God, thank you.” Ω