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Cubans suffer as the blackout caused by the hurricane continues

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HAVANA — Ivette Garrido scrambled last week to get the 6 kilograms (13 pounds) of subsidized chicken that the Cuban government gave her family and put them in the freezer, happy to have meat to survive Hurricane Ian.

Now she’s considering giving the chicken to her three dogs before it goes bad, as a major power outage caused by the storm stretches over two days and everything in her freezer thaws in scorching temperatures.

The government has not said what percentage of the population is still without power, but power authorities said only 10% of Havana’s 2 million residents had electricity on Thursday.

“We are not having a very good time, trying to survive, not to let it thaw,” said Garrido, who lives with his mother and a 19-year-old daughter in the town of Cojimar, on the outskirts of Havana.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans face similar situations.

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Ian crossed western Cuba on Tuesday before heading north to Florida. He initially cut power in some provinces, but problems worsened and soon the power grid collapsed across the country, affecting 11 million people, the first time a total blackout was recorded.

The storm also left three dead and damage not yet quantified.

Electricity returned in some parts of Cuba on Wednesday, while it was turned on and then turned off in other parts. Experts said the total blackout showed the vulnerability of Cuba’s power grid and warned that it will take time and sources, things the country does not have, to fix the problem.

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The authorities have vowed to work tirelessly to tackle the problem.

A half-dozen Havana residents interviewed by The Associated Press on Thursday were tense over the lack of electricity, which has also left them without water as electric motors power the pumps that bring water to their taps. Many households cannot cook because they use electric stoves after a campaign by the authorities to eliminate artisanal stoves.

“We have never been without power for so long,” Garrido said. “They put it at 24 hours, at 36, but more than 48 have already passed. He is criminal. Who is responsible for this?”

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She has placed bottles of ice water that had been in the freezer next to the chicken, along with some pork and sausage, to try to make the meat last longer. A fan and a television also await the return of electricity.

AP calls to a dozen people in Cuba’s major cities — Holguín, Guantánamo, Matanzas, Ciego de Ávila, Camagüey and Santiago — found similar problems to Havana, with most reporting that their neighborhoods still had no power.

The authorities say that the total blackout occurred due to a failure in the connections between the three regions of Cuba – west, center and east – caused by Ian’s winds.

Cuba’s electrical system “was already in a critical and immunocompromised state as a result of the deterioration of the thermoelectric plants. The patient is now on life support,” said Jorge Piñon, director of the Latin America and Caribbean program at the Center for International Energy and Environment Policy in Latin America and the Caribbean at the University of Texas.

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Being interconnected “is the perfect analogy for the domino effect where you drop one domino and hit all the others in a chain reaction,” he said, referring to how a failure in one part of the country soon affected the entire country.

Cuba is suffering from an economic crisis, produced by a combination of US sanctions, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and inefficiencies. The island’s GDP plummeted 11% in 2020 and grew 1.3% in 2021. Cubans were already living with scheduled blackouts.

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Cuba has 13 power generation plants, eight of which are traditional thermoelectric plants and five floating plants leased from Turkey since 2019. There is also a group of small plants distributed throughout the country since an energy reform in 2006.

But the plants are poorly maintained, a phenomenon the government blamed on underfunding and US sanctions. Complications in obtaining fuel are also a problem.

“Unfortunately, it will be a long recovery process that will also have to cover the generation deficit that already existed before the hurricane, all of this at a high economic cost that the country cannot afford,” Piñón said.

Andrea Rodríguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP


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