Articles / About Camagüey / History / Hurricanes in Santa Cruz del Sur: The Truth about the Relief Train and the $ 500
Friday, November 9, 2012
Hurricanes in Santa Cruz del Sur: The Truth about the Relief Train and the $ 500
By Lázaro David Najarro Pujol / Radio Cadena Agramonte.
For a very long time I sought the truth on the story narrated by Ramón Guerra Cabrera (Mongo “El Jaco”) who told that many of the victims of the Hurricane that hit Santa Cruz del Sur on November 9, 1932 were attributable to the denial of the US-owned railway company to authorize the departure of the relief train. For such authorization, the American company demanded Santa Cruz del Sur officials to pay $ 500 and only then dozens of people who had found shelter in the boxcars could go away from the fishing village.
This information was confirmed by Regino Avilés Marín. He says that his uncle Rafael Olegario Marín Placeres (1896-1985), engineer of the Cuban railway company told him that he was covering the route Camagüey-Santa Cruz del Sur on those days. Then, a group of engineers and stokers had prepared to work if needed. This story was hitherto apparently unknown.
Rafael Olegario Marín Placeres waits for an order to run his locomotive towards the fishing village of Santa Cruz del Sur on November 9, 1932. The village is being threatened by a dreadful hurricane. Marín Placeres wears a bib-and-brace denim overall, a long sleeved jacket and a cap. The locomotive had entered the platform of the colonial-styled Estación Central de Camagüey (railroad station). The passengers train had come from Nuevitas, a town located about 84 km north-east of Camagüey.
The engineer takes a solid gold Watlam watch out of his pocket to check the hour. He feels impatient. The company demands $ 500 for this service.
The category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale moves west, between Cabo Gracias a Dios, in Nicaragua; and Jamaica towards Central American, but all of a sudden it makes a inexplicable turn and moves northeast. Now it is located some 150 miles west of Jamaica, so Camagüey province, in central Cuba seems to be one of the most vulnerable places.
The hurricane features sustained winds exceeding 222 km/h, the traveling speed is of some 20 km/h, and the vortex has a diameter of 66 km.
The residents in Santa Cruz del Sur begin to feel the effects of the atmospheric phenomenon. It is late in the evening and the sky is covered with clouds; a cold drizzle begins to fall.
In the early hours of November 9th, the National Observatory reports that there’s no time to take any action. Soon the sea floods the town’s lowest lands including the Marina Street and other alleyways.
A boxcar is marooned by floods in the pier. It is 8:00 am and the people find shelter in the freight car. Some 42 people are packed there, among them the family of Salvador Furiach, Eliécer Betancourt and others.
A huge wave bursts into the car. Some minutes before Eliécer had said to open the doors so that the water and the winds could get in and out freely. Near the beach there are other 40 freight cars that can not resist the fury of the sea and the hurricane’s savage winds.
Terrifying screams of women, children and men are heard until they are muted by the water. A completely terrified and stark naked woman goes floating on the top of a piano.
As a sheet of paper, a freight car full of people is raised by the fury of the waters.
Ángel Córdova sees how many of his relatives, friends and acquaintances die with a wince of despair on their faces. His destiny is different. Only the car in which he has found shelter is not turned on its head, on the contrary the winds pushes the car as if it were an invisible locomotive.
The air mass that makes the hurricane move is overwhelming; killing dozens of people in a matter of two hours.
A six-metre wall of water rises in Playa Bonita, and goes on advancing towards the town leaving a trail of death.
There is a truce at midday but then the hurricane takes it out again on the people. Giant waves destroy what is left in town, with the exception of a big two-storied wooden house which resists the onslaughts of the storm.
The November 9, 1932 hurricane travels across Camagüey province from south to north. A trail of destruction, pain and death is left on its path. Strong winds, rains and waves will continue quenching its deadly thirst even in the Bahamas Islands, where it leaves deep scars.
The railway company does not send any locomotive. Santa Cruz del Sur turns into a field of death.
Rafael Olegario Marín Placeres witnessed that event and knew that the train didn’t leave until November 10th when it shuttled many seriously injured people toward the city of Camagüey.
The hurricane that lashed out the fishing town of Santa Cruz del Sur killed more than 3,000 people of a total of 5,000 inhabitants that lived in the town. It was the most terrible natural tragedy ever in Cuba.
A pantheon honoring those who lost their lives on November 9, 1932 was erected in the cemetery that was built in the new Santa Cruz del Sur.
The pantheon has the shape of an octahedron; it is covered with white tiles and protected by chains. On the marble that covers the entry of the grave, one can read a text in which “eternal peace is implored to heaven”.
Some meters away there is a big cross made of wood and metal measuring some six meters in height, completing so the funeral site.
Year after year inhabitants of Santa Cruz del Sur and visitors go on a pilgrimage to the local cemetery on each November 9th to pay homage to those who died because of the hurricane.
Seventy-six years after that disaster, the coastal town of Santa Cruz del Sur was again battered by another category 5 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale, it was hurricane Paloma.
Once again the town is devastated by big waves and sustained winds. But this time no one dies. Dozens of buses came on time to evacuate the most vulnerable people to safer places.
For those who lost their belongings and houses, the Socialist State built a new neighborhood which was named Comunidad 50 Aniversario (50th Anniversary Community) marking the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
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