Havana and Vardero airports to open tomorrow but no such luck for Jardines del Rey

Posted: 11-Sep-17 13:54

The airports in Havana and Varadero are working non-stop round-the-clock to be fully operational as of tomorrow, yet the Jardines del Rey airport suffered severe damages that will take far longer to repair. While holidaymakers stranded in Varadero and the Cuban capital will be able to board flights back home starting 12th September, those in the popular keys of Cayo Coco or Cayo Guillermo will have to travel to Havana to catch international flights.

Havana and Vardero airports to open tomorrow but no such luck for Jardines del Rey

Hurricane Irma left a trail of devastation everywhere it went, from Bahamas to Puerto Rico, St Martin to the British Virgin Islands. It lifted roofs and took lives, and in Cuba, devastating and destructive as it was, the damage is by no means irreparable, though it will take a long while for many people's lives to return to normality.

It was the first time a Category 5 hurricane touched down on Cuban soil in over 80 years with the previous one, Hurricane Flora taking as many as 2,000 lives in October 1936. Nearly a century later and Cuba is renowned around the world for its effective preventative measures in the face of hurricanes and its smooth and fast evacuation process to avoid human losses. Yet the death toll amounted to ten in the end, ten lives who were regrettably lost (including that of three elderly men who refused to follow the official orders from the Ministry of Defence to be evacuated from their homes). Cuba did all it could to spare lives, yet human free will always has an element of self-inflicted danger.

After Irma’s passing Villa Clara and Matanzas (the worst hit city) are slowly waking to the mounds of rubble, fallen trees and split cables as the government urges everyone to act with caution in cordoned off areas, and in others, seeks to speed up the recovery of services like electricity and water supply. In Havana, where material losses were less catastrophic, children will be ready to go back to school as early as tomorrow.

In the meantime, tourists swiftly evacuated from Varadero, Havana’s coastal areas and the popular offshore keys of Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo in Cuba’s Jardines del Rey archipelago, are being sent back to their hotels and many are resuming their holidays with normality. Those who missed their flight back home over the weekend will have to wait until tomorrow, when Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport will reopen, as will the island’s second largest, Varadero’s Juan Gualberto Gomez Airport.

Just a day after the hurricane’s party, many tourists went back to frolicking on Varadero’s beaches, while some kids swam in central Havana’s flooded streets, both groups just as glad the deadly storm was over and the damage had not been as bad as foreseen. The sun is still somewhat shy, but sun rays are slowly coming back to give light and hope to Cubans who have lost material goods or who will need to repair windows and roof. The trail of destruction in Cuba was nowhere near as bad as it was in other smaller Caribbean islands. The calm after the storm is the mood that prevails in most places.

Yet there is one airport in norther Cuba that won’t be reopening for quite a while it seems. The Jardines del Rey archipelago lies completely in shatters. Piles and piles of debris lie on top of each other, entire rows of chairs hang from upper floors and the images shared by the local media are of complete destruction. Irma caused its roof to collapse, and with it much of the infrastructure went down, meaning that the airport will need extensive renovation works before it can reopen to the public and start operating flights. The only thing that was salvaged was technical equipment that had been removed prior to the storm as a precautionary measure.

Jardines del Rey is connected to mainland Cuba via a causeway, meaning that most tourists get here by land rather than by flying, but there are a few international charters that flew directly to the key. It closed 2016 with 50 weekly routes and 500,000 passengers in transit. Now however, with the level of damage to the airport and the keys’ hotels, most will have to make the obligatory 17-kilometre journey by car to Ciego de Avila, from which point they’ll either take a four-hour coach ride or short domestic flight to either Varadero or Havana’s airport.

Cubans as always are trying to make the best of it. As resilient as ever, many videos are circulating around the web showing some enthusiasts surfing on Havana’s flooded streets and kids diving into accidental pools. Whatever happens, Cubans are certainly the kind of people who will wear a smile as the best suit of armour, against all odds. 

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