BY Collin Laverty | September 20, 2017 — Hurricane Irma was expected to largely skirt Cuba, sweeping over the eastern tip of the island before barreling toward Florida. Instead, the monstrous storm practically ran the length of the nation, leaving a path of destruction along the northern coast. This was the first time the eye of a category five storm reached the island since 1932, and the immediate consequences were dire.
The malecón, Havana’s famed seawall, was no match for the 20-foot swells that hurtled against it. Low-lying neighborhoods were flooded, laying to waste the belongings of tens of thousands of Habaneros and flooding the U.S. Embassy. The historic hurricane took 10 Cuban lives, countless homes and caused millions of dollars in damage to resort towns, airports and farms.
Irma did not, however, take the resilience, resolve and spirit of the Cuban people. It did not leave Cuba uninhabitable and it didn’t destroy the beauty the country has to offer. If you’ve thought about visiting Cuba, now is the time. Cubans are very much back to business – and their doors are open to visitors.
But you wouldn’t know it from the news. Media coverage focused on horrific scenes of destroyed coastal towns and severe flooding in the capital. Along with a recent State Department travel advisory that urged visitors to “carefully consider the risks of travel to Cuba” while recovery efforts are underway, this has caused panic among would-be travelers. The upshot? The rest of the State Department’s message – that major roads were open, and that power and water service has largely been restored – was overshadowed. This led to trip cancellations that further harmed Cuban entrepreneurs and tourism workers who were already suffering from measures taken by the administration of President Donald Trump to limit U.S. travel to Cuba.