SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic –– As Hurricane Sandy bore down on the U.S. Oct. 29, church workers in Haiti and Cuba began cleaning up after one of the worst storms to hit the Caribbean in years.
Government officials raised the death toll across the islands to 65, the vast majority in Haiti, where widespread flooding devastated parts of the already impoverished country.
“The whole south is under water,” Haiti Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told the Associated Press. In addition to 51 dead, 12 people were still reported missing in the country.
Crews from church agencies were working to assist some of the 17,800 people who were forced to flee to temporary shelters due to the storm.
In Cuba, Caritas officials estimated some 100,000 homes were affected, including roughly 20,000 that were destroyed. Eastern Cuba was hit hardest, officials said.
In Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second-largest city, “there was not a block that did not suffer significant damage,” Maritza Sanchez Abillud, director of Caritas Cuba, said in a written report.
The storm damaged schools, health clinics, government buildings and some “90 percent of the churches and chapels, including the National Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in the village of El Cobre,” which the pope visited in March, Sanchez said.
Cuban government officials said it was the worst storm to hit the island since 2005 when Hurricane Dennis caused more than $2 billion in damage.
In Holguin, a province of slightly more than 1 million people in northeast Cuba, church workers said the damage was widespread.
“It ripped off roofs of houses. There’s a lot of material damage, much more in the countryside than in the city” of Holguin, the provincial capital, said a church worker at the Holguin Diocese.
Santiago, Holguin and the province of Guantanamo, also in eastern Cuba, were worst hit, church workers said.
“Crops (were) ruined, roads swept away, thousands and thousands of people (found) their homes flooded up to their chests,” Gustavo Andujar, cultural director of the church’s Varela Cultural Center, told Catholic News Service in an email.
Sanchez said Caritas was planning to distribute food, water, building materials and other emergency materials to residents in eastern Cuba. But she said the “reality is overwhelming, so we are going to need financial support from elsewhere.”