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Cuban schools devastated by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike

© UNICEF Cuba/2008/Garcia
Agnerys, 9, stands in what’s left of her hurricane-damaged school in the municipality of Los Palacios, in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province.

HAVANA, Cuba, 12 September 2008 – Two powerful hurricanes, Gustav and Ike, have pummelled the island of Cuba in the last nine days with high winds and torrential rains that left a broad path of destruction.

“UNICEF has been the first UN agency to provide funds for this emergency,” says the organization’s Deputy Representative in Cuba, Viviana Limpias. “Much more [funding] is needed, however.”

In the aftermath of the storms, over 2.5 million Cubans have been evacuated from their homes. Whole communities have lost electricity, roads, hospitals and schools. The loss of schools is particularly difficult for children in hurricane-affected areas.

Picking up the pieces
Just weeks ago, the community served by the Pedro Hernandez Camejo School in Pinar del Rio – one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Gustav – was making preparations for the start of the school year. Now they are picking up the pieces.

Students, parents, teachers and other local residents were working hard to beautify the school, which is located in the municipality of Los Palacios.

© UNICEF Cuba/2008/Garcia
A family in Cuba stands in front of their daughter’s school, destroyed by Hurricane Gustav.

Agnery, 9, was about to start fourth grade at the school. Before Gustav struck, she had enthusiastically packed her school bag with her notebook, pencils and books.

“I feel very sad. I love my school. My classroom was that one over there,” she said, pointing to a ruined building, which is all that remains of the school. The walls, still full of children’s drawings, are crumbling, and the roof was destroyed.

Schools as shelters
Despite the damage, the headmaster believes classes are likely to resume for the school’s 547 students.

“Obviously, we won’t be able to open up this school,” he said. “Certain families have provided us with rooms from their own houses, which we will be able to use as classrooms.”

Ms. Limpias noted UNICEF’s concern with the status of schools and recreational facilities for children in the island. “The return to school has been pushed back until further notice, and many classrooms are currently being used as shelters,” she said.

“Out of 930 schools in the province, 600 were damaged,” noted the Vice-President of Pinar del Rio, Rafael de Jesus Fernandez. “Some of them have been totally destroyed. We want to start the term as soon as possible, even though relocating students is likely to be difficult. Only 111 schools will have to wait a bit longer to start the term.”



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