Bajan students in Cuba safe

Barbadian students in Cuba were spared the worst as Hurricane Matthew battered the country with torrential rains and 145 mph winds last night.

No deaths were reported, but a massive storm surge with waves as high as 26 feet toppled apartment buildings and washed out bridges on the island’s northern coast, according to news reports.

State-run television channel Cubavision said more than a million Cubans were evacuated from their homes.

However, there was little to worry about in the eastern provinces of Guantanamo, as well as Las Tunas, which together with Santiago de Cuba, are home to eight of the 17 Barbadians studying in the Spanish-speaking Caribbean nation, according to the students.

One fifth-year medical student described the experience as “anti-climactic”, explaining that it was not as bad as they had anticipated.

“We were expecting serious heavy rains and winds and stuff, but like I said it seemingly passed very, very calm. We had intermittent showers and that was it,” the student, who requested anonymity, told Barbados TODAY by telephone.

According to the student, six Barbadians weathered the storm in a basement at their university, and the necessary measures were taken by the Cuban authorities to ensure everyone was accounted for.

“They told us to pack our stuff and in case of emergency when the hurricane actually reached, we would all go downstairs. They made the students who lived outside come back in for their safety so they would have a head count of all of us.”

Another student, who had not experienced the full brunt of a hurricane, said years of dealing with at home made it easy for him to prepare for Matthew.

“I was over prepared. We don’t have experience of actually taking a hurricane [direct hit] but we already have enough experience to know how to prepare for one, what to do and what not to do,” the medical student, who also requested anonymity, said.   

Overall, he said, people appeared not to take the storm too seriously in the initial stages.

However, once it became clear the country would be affected and the storm intensified, the mood changed, he said.

“They were all very relaxed in the first couple days, say Saturday and Sunday. Everybody was like, ‘oh, just a system coming’. But then Monday it came and they realized the severity of the situation, then they started to worry. There was a lot of panic, a lot of people running around trying to get things, boarding up stores.”

The student said the major concern for the Barbadians was that everything would be in place to ensure their safety.

“We weren’t scared but we wanted to know what the preoccupation of the country on our part was, whereas some students were evacuated to Havana which is a safer zone . . .

“We wanted to know, are we going to be evacuated? Are they putting things in place for us in case anything happens? That was our main concern,” he explained.   

Cuba’s hardest hit region was Baracoa, a municipality of 80,000 near the eastern tip of the island, where high winds and massive waves destroyed dozens of homes, left hundreds of others damaged, knocked out electricity and cut off roads to the city overnight, according to The Associated Press.

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