CIENFUEGOS, Cuba -- Sitting on an old rocking chair, without a roof overhead, Aurelio Medina waits anxiously for some kind of help to repair his battered home.
Medina, 87, has been sleeping practically outdoors for the past five days since Hurricane Lili blew the roof off his home, a wooden structure of about 100 square feet, in the remote village of Abreus.
``Somebody from People's Power [a local organization] came over the day after the hurricane and said they were going to help us, at least with nails,'' said Medina, who suffers from chronic asthma and said he has had nine heart attacks. ``The problem is: I'm not the only one. Thousands of people are in the same condition as I am.''
The hurricane struck this region Friday with winds of up to 83 mph and rains that caused huge floods. More than 430,000 homes were damaged throughout the nation, of which about 4,300 collapsed.
Several areas in Cienfuegos, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara and Matanzas provinces remained Tuesday without electricity or water.
What Medina needs most at this time, however, is some sort of medication to allay the feeling of asphyxia he has felt since Friday, when he suddenly found himself without a roof over his head.
``I can't sleep at night and have been unable even to go to the bathroom,'' he said.
Medina, who lives with his wife Esperanza Palmero, 85, said he didn't prepare for the storm's arrival because construction materials are scarce in Cuba and because the hurricane was expected to go through Havana province, not the central region.
Neighbors gave him some cardboard Tuesday, so he could make temporary repairs while awaiting the construction materials the government promised to send to the nine worst-hit provinces.
Old government trucks could be seen Tuesday moving along Ocho Vias highway, carrying materials such as sheet-metal roofing, sewage pipes and roof tiles.
The victims of the hurricane, however, don't know when the aid will actually reach them or how the provincial governments will distribute it.
``They say the aid is on its way, but we don't know when it will get here,'' said Raul Fidel Sanchez, 38, who lost his home next to Abreus' main highway.
In the meantime, he is allowed to live with his wife and 18-month-old son in a back room of the town's elementary school. There, he keeps the few possessions he managed to salvage when his old house came crashing down.
``We started running backward'' at that moment, he said. ``It was scary.''
Residents of Cienfuegos said the hurricane flayed the area without mercy for seven hours, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
No one was killed, but there were plenty of injured people. The most dramatic case involved Jairo Valdes, a 14-month-old boy who remains in critical condition at Cienfuegos Pediatric Hospital with a skull fracture.
According to his aunt, Magali Almeida, the boy was sleeping when a palm tree fell on the house, smashing through the bedroom ceiling.
``When we got to him, the tree was on his face,'' she said. ``It didn't cut his face but he has a fracture.''
Despite the efforts made by the Cuban community in the United States to send humanitarian aid through Caritas, the relief agency of the Catholic Church, few in Cuba know about the initiative.
``We haven't had any electricity and whenever it's on, people want to do such things as cook, clean and wash,'' not listen to news, said Elisa Pose Rodriguez, who works at the Cienfuegos oil refinery.
Tuesday, President Clinton gave the green light to direct shipment of aid from Miami to Cuba, in an effort to speed up the process. The Cuban government has also appealed to the United Nations and other international organizations.
The question now is how Caritas will manage to distribute the aid without interference from the government.
Caritas' national coordinator, Rolando Suarez, says the supplies will be delivered directly to the needy ``knocking door to door,'' a difficult task considering the size of Cuba's central region.
Suarez said Caritas officials, at diocese and parish levels, are making lists of the neediest cases in preparation for the arrival of the supplies.
Copyright © 1996 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1996 The Miami Herald