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Havana quickly cleans up for tourists after hurricane, but other parts of Cuba have a problem

Mimi Whitefield, Miami Herald on

Published in Weather News

HAVANA -- Stretches of the famed Malecon boulevard are still closed for repairs and seaside businesses show the scars of 30-foot waves that crashed through the seawall during Hurricane Irma.

But tourists have returned to the capital, even as areas hit hard by the storm continue to struggle.

In the seaside town of Jaimanitas, west of Havana, three vintage red convertibles dropped a group of tourists at the fanciful mosaic-encrusted home of artist Jose Fuster and merchants on the block sold coconut water, wooden statues and other souvenirs.

Just blocks away, 53-year-old Alberto Sanchez Borges stood in the shell of his home. Irma smashed a retaining wall and washed away the front of his waterfront home.

"I've been here nearly 40 years and I've never seen anything like this," he said. "The house is not habitable. The water was chest-high when it came through."

Hurricane debris littered the nearby beach, small fishing boats were tossed like toys against some homes and other houses showed gaping holes in their roofs, but neighbors tried their best to get back to their routines, casting nets for sardines and hanging clothes to dry in ruins of homes.

Closer to Havana in Cojimar, the town where author Ernest Hemingway kept his fishing boat and where the fisherman believed to have inspired "The Old Man and the Sea" used to live, dozens of homes abutting the sea were damaged.

"The water came through the bedroom, destroyed the mattress, and then washed away the front door on its way out," said Tamara Valdes, who lives in the coastal town.

She and her husband returned the day after the storm surge to clean up. But what worries her most now are the damp walls and ceilings and the home sitting above hers. Since the storm, the precariously sagging ceiling in her front room has been reinforced by boards.

Glancing overhead she said, "I'm afraid the ceiling could fall."

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