Hurricane in Havana: Recovery (Part 3)

It’s been over a week since the storm hit, and as with most natural disasters, recovery is happening, but in fits and starts.

We wound up being without electricity from Saturday afternoon to Monday early evening. At that point, our fridge was a hot box and we were running out of fresh food. On Sunday afternoon, we lost water. That came back with the electricity Monday night, once the pump had power again.

In Vedada - a huge tree was plucked up during the storm, concrete and all, and crashed into the nearby house. Luckily it looked like the building wasn't damaged and no one was hurt.

In Vedado – a huge tree was plucked up during the storm, concrete and all, and crashed into the nearby house. Luckily it looked like the building wasn’t damaged and no one was hurt.

On Sunday and Monday, I went to Hotel Habana Libre, about a 5-minute walk away to see if they had power, so I could charge my phones and laptop. They did! And a hundred other people had the same idea. It was challenging finding a spot to plug in and I noticed that people had brought in power strips to make the most out of each outlet. I tried that approach the next day – it was much less stressful and it felt good to help other people out.

The cool thing about Habana Libre was despite feeling dirty and sweaty and gross and having no idea when life would return to normal, everyone else was in the same boat, and I had some really good conversations – with three Venezuelan doctors who were returning to their country after two years working here, with a Cuban ex-model who lives in Houston now, and with a Peruvian-Italian artist/singer/songwriter who has been traveling to Havana to record his second album. This helped pass the time and I got to practice my Spanish a lot!

Every day that I go out, more things seem to be returning to normal. The hotels aren’t packed with desperate tourists and Cubans charging their cellphones. Stores and cafes are re-opening. More and more people are getting their power restored (although some friends have been without it for close to a week now). Fallen trees are slowly but surely getting sawed and collected.

A popular restaurant in my neighborhood – Biky's – gets its sign rehung a few days after Irma.

A popular restaurant in my neighborhood – Biky’s – gets its sign rehung a few days after Irma.

As far as dancing goes? That’s the big question right now. I was heartbroken to hear that Mil Ocho, one of the most iconic salsa dancing venues in Havana, was destroyed. It was located right at the end of the Malecón in Vedado. I plan to visit to see the damage for myself, but haven’t been able to get there yet.

I’m hopeful that this coming week, the rest of the popular spots will have power and the resources necessary to re-open. Until then, I’m just happy and grateful that I’m safe, and have working utilities and food.

Previously: 

Hurricane Irma in Havana (Part 1)

Hurricane in Havana Part 2: Irma & the Aftermath

Hurricane in Havana Part 2: Irma & the Aftermath

By Saturday afternoon, I was feeling as prepared as I could get. At that point I knew from messages from home and asking around that Irma was likely to skirt Havana after hitting regions of Cuba east of us and along the north coast. I knew we wouldn’t get a direct hit, but we would still feel the impact.

At dusk, the winds were getting strong and the rains came in, and we had already lost electricity. I was a little nervous keeping my windows open but I really needed the airflow without air conditioning or fans. I knew once I went to bed, I’d have to close everything, but I wanted air for as long as possible.

I was exhausted from the day so I got a cold shower in, ate my pizza, and retreated to my room. People were still walking around in the streets in the early evening, which I was really surprised by. The winds were strong enough that I would have been scared of getting hit by some kind of flying debris.

I let Jason Statham calm my nerves in his role as an assassin in the Mechanic (I know, that’s his role in every movie), and then watched one of the worst 80s-homages I have ever seen – Rock of Ages.

Then I shut the windows, grabbed my eyemask and earplugs, took some melatonin and settled in on top of my sheets, ready for a hot, uncomfortable, possibly frightening, and sleeples night.

I managed to sleep solidly for most of the night! I didn’t even hear the storm. The only thing I did hear was the vague din of a party in the neighborhood. They sounded drunk and I swore I heard chanting. The sounds started getting incorporated into my dreams. It was a little surreal.

The winds from Hurricane Irma were strong enough to take down many large trees, like this one in Centro Habana.

The winds from Hurricane Irma were strong enough to take down many large trees, like this one in Centro Habana.

The next day we still had gas and water, but no electricity. I ventured out to assess the damage. There were trees down, and branches and debris in the streets of my neighborhood. And I was shocked – the panaderia was open and they had bread! (I ran back to my place for a bag and some money and bought my pan suave! Happy day.) Then I wandered towards the Malecon.

I walked down Calle O, then back to Infanta, then crossed over to Hotel Nacional. Each spot had a different vantage point of the Malecon completely flooded as well as one to two blocks inland. It was an incredible sight.

Huge, mesmerizing waves were still crashing against the sea walls and flowing into the street. People were swimming in the water! It seemed like extremely dirty and dangerous water to play in, but they didn’t appear to care. And of course many didn’t have a choice but to move through the water – their first floor apartments were submerged.

Crowds gathered to watch the waves as they continued to cascade from the flooded Malecón.

Crowds gathered to watch the waves as they continued to cascade from the flooded Malecón.

The famous Hotel Nacional was open - inside - but the grounds were a mess from the storm. They offered a good view of the Malecón though.

The famous Hotel Nacional was open to guests and visitors – at least indoors – the grounds were a mess from the storm. I managed to sneak out to get a good look at the Malecón though. You can see the Tribuna Anti-Imperialista on the far left, which of course, is right in front of the American Embassy.

We had survived the worst of the storm itself, but we didn’t know what was next – when would things get back to normal?

Blocked access to the flooded Malecón.

Blocked access to the flooded Malecón.

Previously: Part 1: Preparing for Hurricane Irma

Next: Recovery