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Caribbean recovers slowly as more storms threaten

Recovery in the Caribbean following Hurricane Irma is slow and more storms are on the way. Cuba was badly hit and a UN program has been launched to help feed those affected. Housing renewal is a priority.

The United Nations' World Food Program (WFP) said on Saturday it was launching a $5.7-million (5.2-million euro) operation in Cuba to help feed 700,000 people in areas most affected by Hurricane Irma, which hit the northern coastline of the Caribbean's largest island last weekend.

"This hurricane just went down the entire coastline, the volume of impact is just unprecedented," WFP Executive Director David Beasley said during a visit to Havana, after meeting with Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Hitting the northern coastline of the Caribbean's largest island, Irma's winds removed roofs, wrecked the power grid and damaged crops.

Irma was one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century and the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1932.

Sandbags holding back flood water in Havana

Sandbags holding back flood water in Havana

Housing replacements

In a rare media briefing, city authorities said they were prioritizing Havana's longstanding housing needs. Euclides Santos, in charge of Havana housing, said that about 50,000 families in total were in need of new housing.

Santos said a plan had been put in place in 2012 to repair and renew housing. "We have delivered 10,000 or so homes so far to people in shelters which means the program is achieving results," he said. People have been living in communal shelters for many years as the state was unable to fund housing due to financial problems caused by an economic crisis in Cuba after the fall of the Soviet Union and consequences of the US trade embargo.

"There is a strategy to reduce the time families have to spend in these places," Santos said, adding that around 7,000 people were living in Havana's 109 shelters. About 25 percent of buildings were in "bad or regular" shape due to the effects of climate, lack of maintenance and the passage of time.

More bad weather on the way

There were severe weather forecasts from storms which had already hit the Caribbean and some new ones on the way.

Baja California Sur state was readying shelters on Saturday, canceling classes and a military parade and a tropical storm warning was given out for Los Cabos due to Hurricane Norma.

Hurricane Jose was moving north out at sea but threatening heavy surf along the US East Coast. 

Tropical storm Maria was expected to strengthen into a hurricane and move towards Caribbean islands already hit by Hurricane Irma, including  Antigua, Barbuda, St. Kitts, Nevis, and Montserrat. It has been forecast to approach the Leeward Islands on Tuesday.

Relief efforts

The French-Dutch island of St Martin was facing problems as fresh running water supplies had still to be restored. 

The French minister for overseas affairs, Annick Girardin, said on Saturday, "There is an existing problem on the issue of contaminated water, the issue of trash, basically the issue of hygiene."  

In poorer neighborhoods where many families were not able to evacuate, residents fear the spread of mosquitoes which can carry diseases such as Zika and dengue fever.

For the Dutch side of the island, the Dutch Red Cross said Saturday that it had collected 13.3 million euros following a weeklong donation drive.

Watch video 01:24

Stunned by the destruction wrought by Hurricane Irma

jbh/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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