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 CNS Story:

SANDY-CUBA Nov-6-2012 (470 words) With photos posted Oct. 26 and 29. xxxi

Caritas Cuba appeals for aid to help thousands left homeless by Sandy

By Ezra Fieser
Catholic News Service

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (CNS) -- Catholic leaders in Cuba are calling for emergency assistance to help feed and shelter thousands of victims of Hurricane Sandy, which cut a devastating path through the eastern part of the island.

"There are thousands and thousands of people that are in need of help," said Santiago de Cuba Archbishop Dionisio Garcia Ibanez in a telephone interview with Catholic News Service Nov. 6. "It is going to take several years to fully recover from this."

Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city, and the eastern part of the island were devastated by the storm Oct. 25 before it headed north to the U.S. mainland. Homes, community buildings, churches, electricity grids, telephone lines and roads were destroyed.

Authorities said 11 people died.

In addition, some 330,000 people evacuated, the vast majority of who stayed with friends and family members.

The storm damaged an estimated 200,000 homes and hundreds of schools.

Archbishop Garcia said crews were working to clear streets of fallen trees and other debris. "Little by little, they are making progress, but this is just the first phase," he said.

Caritas Cuba has appealed to international church agencies for financial assistance.

"The magnitude of the damage is overwhelming and the recovery is difficult and slow," agency director Maritza Sanchez Abiyud said in a report.

In Santiago, 85 percent of residences were damaged, Caritas Cuba reported.

"I am 77 years old and I have never experienced anything so destructive before. Never in my life," Archbishop Garcia said.

Ninety percent of church buildings in the region were damaged, the archbishop said. At least eight churches were destroyed and another 14 were "in very bad condition," he said.

While the Cuban government has taken the lead in the cleanup and distribution of emergency supplies, church and international agencies are playing critical roles in reaching victims.

In the short term, Caritas Cuba has requested emergency food, water and basic supplies for 1,425 families affected by the storm. It asked for emergency funds from Caritas offices in Germany and Switzerland, as well as U.S. Catholic organizations, including Catholic Charities in Miami.

Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami sent a letter to the 105 pastors in the archdiocese requesting that a special collection be taken for storm victims.

Caritas Cuba had started distributing supplies, but its work was limited because of the severity of conditions and a lack of funding.

"The greatest difficulties are related to the high prices of food in the retail market, the only option for our institution to access the resource," Sanchez wrote in her report. "Caritas Cuba has no warehouses or cargo transportation."

The United Nations World Food Program said Nov. 6 that it would supply emergency provisions to about 500,000 Cubans.

The Venezuelan government sent nearly 100,000 pounds of pasta, sugar and other foods to the island.

END


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