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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

The Ministry of Tourism even took to Facebook Live to communicate the message that the beach resort of Varadero was open for business. Despite some technical difficulties, a young man riding on an open-top tourism bus pointed out the beach, the turquoise water, the sun and other attractions that have reopened.

But Havana and Varadero didn't feel the brunt of Irma's fiercest winds. The hurricane made landfall along Cuba's north central coast in Cayo Romano as a Category 5 storm and it tore through Cayo Coco and the Jardines del Rey area where beachside resorts attract international visitors.

About 5,000 tourists, as well as the dolphins from a local attraction, were evacuated from the northern keys. In all, 1.7 million Cubans were evacuated and there were 10 storm-related deaths reported.

Despite extensive damage to resorts in the northern cays, the government has an ambitious target of completing repairs at most hotels there by Nov. 1 and at the few remaining ones by Nov. 15.

But it will take far longer to recover from other damages inflicted during the more than 72 hours that Irma lashed the northern Cuban coast. A United Nations report says between 210,000 and 220,000 homes were severely damaged, agricultural crops and livestock hit hard, and 14 municipalities from the northern coast of Villa Clara province east to Camaguey critically impacted.

But those who make their living catering to visitors, from taxi drivers to private restaurant owners, were eager for things to get back to normal.

Along the Malecon, both neighbors and workers, were busy pumping out buildings and repairing large holes that had opened up in the highway. Pieces of a wall and large boulders from the sea were scattered around a Malecon ice cream shop with the prophetic name Hola Ola (Hello Wave).

"A senora called Irma came and that was the end of it. She took the windows and the walls," said Dulce Maria Corujo as she passed the Coppelita shop in the Cayo Hueso neighborhood. But less than a block away, an agro market was open, where she picked up what she needed to make a salad for lunch.

Many crops were harvested as a precaution before Irma hit and now there's an abundance of bananas, pineapples, avocados and other fruits and vegetables, but people say they're afraid that will turn into scarcities in a few weeks. Irma devastated the poultry industry, and eggs are now rationed at just five a month.

Around Vedado, where there are many blocks with multiple casas particulares (private bed and breakfasts) offering rooms for rent, owners are eager to get out the word that they have light, water and food.

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