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Archive for October 30th, 2012

By Gloria Rubac Pinar del Río, Cuba

Like the Gulf Coast of the United States, the island nation of Cuba was hit hard by hurricanes Gustav and Ike in the fall of 2008.

However, in Cuba, no one, not a single person, was left to their own luck to survive the hurricanes.

“We are lucky to have a Revolution! It is a fact that nobody will be neglected,” wrote Fidel Castro in his “Reflections” on Aug. 28, 2008, before Gustav had yet hit Cuba. “Our strong, forceful and farsighted Civil Defense protects our people.”

Members of the 2009 Pastors for Peace Cuba Friendshipment Caravan, who traveled to Cuba from the U.S. this July, found out just how real that statement is.

One group of caravanistas spent four days in the most western Cuban province, Pinar del Río, which just 10 months earlier had been devastated by Gustav and Ike. Meeting with government and Communist Party officials in the provincial capital, we learned firsthand how Cuba prepares for a hurricane and how they recover from one.

Socialist planning, prevention

“Our major task is prevention. We protect our population and also the resources of our economy,” explained an official.

The province of Pinar del Río has a population of 731,000 people. During Gustav 164,000 people were evacuated and during Ike 192,000 people were evacuated. Everything was organized, well-planned and well-executed. Electricity was out for 20 days, but there were generators for businesses and for people.

“First, we begin before hurricane season is near. We study the population. We identify which of our people will need help. We know which areas will flood first. We have food and supplies ready.

“Second, if a hurricane is approaching and evacuation is necessary, we keep people informed using all media—television, radio and the press. We begin with those most needy, the elderly, families with small children, the sick. Students in boarding schools are immediately taken home. Those who have no one to take them in are taken to civil defense areas that are prepared to house them.

“Then we evaluate economic problems, such as livestock, crops and factories, and take precautions.

“When the hurricane hits us, everyone and everything is protected. Once the hurricane passes, recovery begins immediately.”

In a town in Pinar del Río, Puerto Esperanza, we visited a special school that had been brutally damaged by the hurricanes. Within weeks, Pastors for Peace had sent 30 volunteers to help the community rebuild Escuela Especial Santos Cruz; now it is 90 percent complete. The school educates 76 children with mild to severe mental retardation.

Before the hurricane hit, all desks, books, school records and other supplies were stored in a bunker so they wouldn’t be ruined. After the hurricane students didn’t stop going to school, but met in homes. “Due to good planning, they didn’t miss a beat,” one of the teachers told us.

Puerto Esperanza is a village of 2,000 people on the coast. Historically, many people here have made a living by fishing. Today there is a fishing co-op of 160 workers. After the hurricanes there was a lot of destruction, but today they have rebuilt and recovered from the storms.

The director of the co-op, Magaly Rodríguez Gómez, told us that no one lost their job after Gustav and Ike hit last year. Everyone was paid while the rebuilding was going on.

She explained that since the Cuban revolution there has been a 180-degree turn in the fishing industry.

“Before, the private fishermen wouldn’t pay regular salaries. After the season ended, the workers would lose their jobs. Now, we are paid year-round. After our boats were damaged from the hurricanes, we were still paid while we rebuilt our industry, and it is now 100 percent complete.”

On July 31, 130 caravan members joined with 140 members of the Venceremos Brigade in central Havana for an Anti-imperialist Tribune. One of the speakers was Irma González, daughter of political prisoner René González, one of the Cuban Five being imprisoned in the U.S.

González told the international audience of mostly North Americans: “We welcome you as our brothers and sisters. We take pride that we are never by ourselves. You visit our country in difficult times. You struggle against the blockade and you support our heroes, the Cuban Five.”

She continued, “The last few years of hurricanes have been difficult. Over a half a million homes were destroyed. We had over $10 billion in damage. But nobody was forsaken in our country. We made huge efforts and no one lost their job. The most important thing ever is the life of every single human being in Cuba.”

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Less than 24 hours after Hurricane Sandy ripped through eastern United States, the country’s oldest nuclear power plant – located in Forked River, New Jersey – has been has been put on alert.

You can never make nuclear power stations perfectly safe. You can’t make it impossible for these situations to occur and when they do occur, they can be pretty catastrophic, Professor Christopher Busby from the European Committee on Radiation Risks told RT. The Professor added Oyster Creek plant was a particular risk, located just 65 miles from New York City.

All of the power stations in the area were built against the express wishes of the people who lived there. They were pushed through by some kind of federal axe which overcame the opposition of the people, he said.

Busby spoke to RT about the possible dangers that could occur if waters from Hurricane Sandy flood the nuclear station’s cooling system.

RT: What are the potential dangers as you see it?

Christopher Busby: I think it’s quite unlikely that anything bad will happen. It’s not like a tsunami, it’s not some big tidal wave coming at them. The problem would be that the cooling system would become flooded. The electrical systems that back up the cooling system, so there won’t be any cooling. And in these situations, with nuclear power stations, even though there might be a very remote risk of something happening, when it does happen, it’s pretty catastrophic.

RT:It brings to mind Japan’s Fukushima disaster last year. Are there better protection measures in place now than there were in Fukushima?

CB: The problem is that with all nuclear power stations, you can never make them absolutely perfectly safe. You can make them as safe as you can get, but you can’t make it impossible for these situations to occur. And when they do occur, especially in this one, which is 65 miles south of New York City – with a very, very high population density – it would be pretty catastrophic.

RT:Oyster Creek is America’s oldest nuclear power plant. It was built 2 years before Fukushima. Could its age be a factor in any potential danger?

CB: Of course. The older the nuclear power station, the less good the integrity of the various control systems and the actual metallic components of the control systems, too – of course if they’re older, they’re more corroded, they can be brittle as a result of neutron effects, so yes of course that’s certainly a factor. In fact, oyster creek, like all of those power stations near nyc were built against the express wishes of the people who lived there. They were pushed through by some kind of federal axe which overcame the opposition of people who lived there.

RT:Officials say there are currently NO protective actions taking place outside the nuclear facility, as there is no imminent threat from radiation. Should precautions be taken anyway?

CB: I think it’s more likely that there’s nothing much they can do. So there’s no point in scaring people and trying to run around and do stuff. There isn’t much they can do. All they have to do there is sit and keep their fingers crossed and hope that the flood waters don’t go so high that they actually flood the control systems and the electricity which backed it all up. That’s really the problem. So it’s not really like Fukushima in the sense of the huge amounts of energy that were unleashed then. It could be just a slow flooding affair, which could be just as nasty.

RT:What’s the worst case scenario if this did happen? Would it go up like Fukushima, or does the fact that it’s already closed down mitigate any bad things that might happen there?

CB: Well you could still have a meltdown, of course. The fuel inside the shutdown reactor is still extremely hot and has to be cooled, so if you don’t cool it then it gets very hot and can melt down. So yes, of course, you can still have a catastrophic problem.

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