Tropical storm Laura

HAVANA, Aug. 24  Cubans are trying to abide by the COVID-19 health protocols while sheltering from tropical storm Laura which is hitting the entire country as it heads to the Gulf of Mexico and the U.S. coast.“Now, we wear face masks and use hand sanitizers. That makes the difference during the evacuation process,” Yenisel Perez, 36, a resident in the easternmost Cuban province of Guantanamo, told Xinhua.

Laura has ravaged the entire island nation with heavy rains and gusty winds.

In the eastern Cuban town of Baracoa, the storm has flooded streets, causing damage to houses and buildings near the city’s seafront. And as the storm’s powerful winds washed out roads and crippled communication in mountainous regions, streets in northern and southern coastal towns have been filled with debris and mud.

Also, local governments in the country’s central and western provinces have also taken precautionary measures in light of the imminent impact of the storm.

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has posed new challenges to the management of natural disasters in Cuba since the health crisis has complicated the rescue and evacuation requirements.

Jose Antonio Torres Iribar, head of the provincial defence council in the capital Havana, said that measures must be adopted to minimize the risk of COVID-19 contagion in government shelters.

“We must foresee everything at evacuation centers,” he said. “If under normal circumstances, these shelters could house 500 people, now this number must be necessarily reduced for the evacuation process not to become a problem in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

As lockdown restrictions have been reimposed in the capital, the rest of the country’s provinces and the Isle of Youth special municipality are gradually returning to the “new normal.”

Miguel Angel Hernandez, a weather forecaster at the Cuban state TV, said that the coronavirus pandemic, along with climate change, is a major threat to the Caribbean countries.

“We must stay alert and efficiently activate early warning systems in the region because more storms are to come and the novel coronavirus will be around for a while,” he said.

Forecasters have termed the current hurricane season in the Caribbean “extremely active,” predicting 19 to 25 named storms, including seven to 11 hurricanes.