Many of you are probably following the progress of Hurricane Irma through the Caribbean. At this point it looks like the state of Florida will take a very serious hit. Some areas will likely have catastrophic problems.
There is a lot of of current news about how Irma destroyed most of the homes on St. Martin and several other small islands a few days ago. There are also lots of projections about what will likely happen to south Florida beginning this evening. However, I believe the information reported about Irma in Cuba is very incomplete, and actually misleading. I have been monitoring reports from three major cable news networks. Only CNN actually has a reporter on the scene–Patrick Oppman. He has lived in Cuba off-and-on for many years. For the past 24-36 hours, he has been reporting from the seaside town of Caibarién. It is located almost in the middle of the north coast of Cuba. He has reported that several towns in the area have flooded, but most people were previously evacuated. This area was hit harder than expected, because Irma changed course slightly and continued to the west, instead of turning to the north as predicted. (It is finally turning north now as I write.) The two most notable results are that the eye will now move through Florida west of previous predictions, and the eye has traveled closer to Cuba’s north coast. There are over a thousand small islands (cayos) off the coast. Most are uninhabited, but there are several resorts in the area. I presume they were hit pretty hard. There are no large cities on the coastal mainland in this area. The eye traveled over many of these islands, resulting in Irma breaking up to a certain extent, losing a lot of energy. Irma briefly dropped from a Category-5 to Cat-3. Unfortunately, now there is warm open water between Irma’s eye and Florida, so it is quite likely to gain strength again and will likely hit south Florida as a Cat-5. Because of this new course further west to Florida, the Gulf Coast looks like it will have much more destruction than Miami and Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Tampa–a large city where many Miami residents escaped to in the last few days–may now experience an unprecedented storm surge with widespread destruction. Also–there is a good chance that at least one of the 42 bridges connecting Key West to the mainland will be destroyed, further isolating this well-known island. The latest projection indicates that the eye of Irma may pass very close to Key West as a Cat-5 hurricane. I hope everybody got out while they could.
I have been communicating with friends in Havana this morning. They still have power and internet services. Things are relatively okay there, but waves are crashing over the Malecón seawall, flooding some areas. This happens several times every decade, so it is nothing new–it will be costly, but not catastrophic. However–the CNN reporters in the U.S. are interpreting Oppman’s reports as though Irma has been very destructive for all of Cuba—not just in a limited area. Cuba’s north coast is almost as long as California’s west coast. I believe there is a huge difference between: reports of damage to a fairly limited, mostly uninhabited area in central Cuba, and “Cuba has been devastated by Hurricane Irma with cities under water!”
The bottom line is that Havana and western Cuba (where most first-time visitors spend their time) will do just fine, and will probably be mostly or fully recovered by December. A much bigger concern for me is how well the Cuban-American communities in south Florida weather Hurricane Irma. They send billions of dollars every year to their families and business partners in Cuba. The total amount has increased dramatically in the last few years. This is yet another significant factor affecting island’s future that Cuba can’t control.