The hurricane, the town, the priest

By: Lino Ernesto Verdecia Calunga

Ciclón Flora
Ciclón Flora

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To Cueto, to my countrymen

October 1963 will always be a jumble of wet and sad memories for those who were more or less direct witnesses of the ravages of Hurricane Flora. The radio had been warning of the danger of the great cloudy masses that were approaching the north of Oriente as if they wanted to subtract from the Atlantic all the evaporation of its mighty extension. From day 2, the approach of what would be the most powerful barrage of rain that many had seen, showed the grayness of its power with an agglomeration of increasingly dense clouds that moved more than fast and at the same time hid the little light from the sun of that afternoon when many bought candles, sugar, cookies, rum, food, cigarettes, flour, coffee; while others were looking for a hammer or a shovel, nails, wooden strips, pots to collect water from leaks, bags to cover cracks and everything that could alleviate what the older ones claimed to know well.

On the 3rd a thick rain began to fall on the roofs and streets of the town. From some doors and windows a few recklessly dared to watch how the gusts of wind were increasing and that, as if impelled by an invisible bellows, they lashed now from the north, now from the northeast, and between the sleepers and the rails they began to to form dozens of small streams that slid in any direction as long as the direction was oriented towards the lower parts.

On the zinc roofs, the sound of the water falling in bursts caused a sensation only comparable to the images seen in the movies where ships are whipped by the blizzard of a gale; but the fact that they were now totally real and very much alive was enough for fright, fear, anguish, and prayers to grow in the weakest houses.

Sometimes the wind seemed to get tired of blowing and then the curtain of rain fell almost perpendicular and so thick that the most imaginative could think that they were looking at a foggy curtain that would end up whetting the appetite, while giving way to a penetrating humidity that already It let the effects be felt in exasperated bronchi and in coughs, coryzas, joint pains, calluses and bunions.

The next two days were similar, although the rain was not as heavy. The houses where there were battery-powered radios became small centers of information regarding the direction of the hurricane, and then the repeaters of the news put and removed data, distances and speeds according to their ability to fabulate. Protected with capes, oilcloth tablecloths, pieces of nylon or cardboard, those who wandered in search of groceries and cigarettes, or to offer or seek help, seemed like lost souls when the downpour pressed down.

When the course of the great storm seemed to be heading to one side, the new news gave it to another; Not a little confusion was appreciated by those most experienced in interpreting what the latest reports reported. Flora, like a spoiled bratty girl playing with a lasso, had made a recurve that led her from the center of the province to the edge of the north coast, coming out to sea as if she were going to visit the archipelago of the Bahamas. , but it returned with more clouds and therefore with more rain and much more damage.

It was later, when it had almost cleared up, that the town learned of the risky feat carried out by the priest Pujadas, a mulatto who they said was from Santiago and who, when all attempts to get a rope to a crew member who he had fallen from an amphibious tank and, in imminent danger to his life, was clinging as best he could to the top of a bush that was shaken and surrounded by the raging waters of the Jagüeyes stream, pompously called a river when in its natural state it was a thin stream that sometimes nor did it seem wet and where the guajacones used to pile up in the puddles or small pools where they competed with herbs and roots, but now it was turned into a mighty turbulent torrent that had ripped out the little bridge that allowed entry from the road when coming from Holguín.

Minutes passed and all the witnesses despaired at the distressing situation of those who seemed condemned to be dragged by the indomitable current. The priest, of whom nobody knew the well-developed athletic conditions of his student and seminary days, was one of the witnesses.

The bitter shadow of impossibility was already beginning to settle in the cloudy and drizzly evening when, to everyone’s astonishment, stripping off his cape, cassock and shoes, the young priest suggested how he who was in danger could be helped and, without waiting for the Approval of the others, he resolutely began to wrap the same long rope around his waist with which he had tried to lasso the hard-pressed, but leaving a good length loose.

The mooring was secured to a truck and the risky and spontaneous rescuer chose the angle of the rough shore from which he would best jump into the water. Some looked at him strangely, because he rather seemed to move away from the needy.

Undoubtedly, the solidarity and opportune behavior of the parish priest was reckless. The current seemed like it would drag him too, but he knew how to launch himself as soon as he could stroke hard and everyone’s eyes focused on how the priest’s young and mixed-race muscles reached where the terrified castaway showed fatigue, fear and that rare resignation of those who believe that the end has come. With energetic movements and without letting the rescued person catch him, he passed the rope through his armpits and when he had secured his torso as best he could, he made signs for them to start pulling the rope.

The force of the current continued to shake the bodies that were pulled from the shore both by hands and by the desire to see them safe. The drizzle was still weak but impertinent.
Applause, exclamations and even tears surrounded the priest-turned-lifeguard and the trembling body of the rescued man whose olive-green jacket was tangled in the well-knotted end of the rope that four hands rushed to untie. Some hugged the priest and others looked at him with all the admiration that was possible at that moment. He quickly got dressed and put on his muddy cassock while in an authoritative voice he said:

—Quickly, give him a drink of something very strong and take him to the Casa de Socorros…

Those who were spectators of the intrepid action of the clergyman would later narrate it with admiration and sympathy; even those who, imbued by the growing ferment of a manualistic and dogmatized materialism, had looked at him until a little earlier with a certain rejection calling him behind his back the mulatto priest, the same one who seemed like one more when he walked through town, even though he was a representative of the power of God.

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