Hurricane in Cuba and help from the crystallographic community

Cari Soci,
Paola Spadon ci ha inoltrato il messaggio ricevuto dai
colleghi cubani, in ginocchio a causa degli uragani recenti.
Ci sembra giusto farlo pervenire alla comunità cristallografica italiana.

Con molti cordiali saluti
Valeria Ferretti

Dr. Valeria Ferretti
Secretary of the Italian Crystallographic Association (AIC)
Chemistry Department and
Centro di Strutturistica Diffrattometrica
University of Ferrara
Via L. Borsari 46
I-44100 FERRARA (Italy)

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Hurricane in Cuba and help from the crystallographic community
Date: Mon, 15 Sep 2008 11:56:08 -0400
From: Ernesto Estevez Rams
Organization: Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia de Materiales
To: Michael Dacombe

Dear Mike,

As you may have known from the news, Cuba has been affected by two huge hurricanes in less than a week time. The worse hit regions in the country have been the most occidental province of Pinar del Rio, land of the world famous tobacco, and the Isle of Youth which is at the south of the mainland island. Also the East part of the country was severely hit Guantanamo, Holguin, Ciego de Avila, Las Tunas, Granma. Cuba has 14 provinces and at least 12 have been heavily affected by the hurricanes.
Habana fortunately was not direct on the path of the hurricanes eye and although both were close to it, the damages in infrastructure was not as bad as other regions of the country.

Every news you have heard or seen pales compared to the size of the damage. We, over the years, have gotten used to hurricanes but this time it has surpass anything we could imagine. It has been compared as worse than a massive air strike in terms of damage. Whole regions of the country have been devastated and hundred of thousands of houses have been damaged or totally destroyed. Today they were reporting that at least half a million houses have been affected. There are big regions
without electricity. Roads and bridges have been damaged. Crops lost completely. Farm animals and cattle also lost by the thousands.

In the middle of such tremendous disaster there have been also incredible events of solidarity, discipline and courage. This has also been one of this moment were you can feel proud of your country and your countrymen. In spite of the ferocious nature of the events, up to now only seven people have lost there life. More than one million and a half people were evacuated with no human loss during this evacuation. It is estimated that more than seventy percent of those evacuated did so to the houses of other Cubans who open their doors to shelter those more in need and are sharing with others the little they have. In Cuba we say that solidarity is not to give what you have surplus, but to share the things that you also need. All pregnant women with risk were taken to secure places and put under medical surveillance. Elderly people have
been taken also under medical care. Not a single child has lost his life. Brigades of the finest Cuban artist have gone to the worse affected areas to bring their art and joy to everyone. They sleep in camps with the evacuated, they eat with them, and share the life with them. They have declare their commitment to stay as long as it takes.

Specially touching is the actions they are doing with the children in order to minimize the psychological impact of the disaster. Thousands and thousands of Cubans are working in emergency actions for those affected with no regard to day or night, weekdays or weekends, reconstruction efforts, saving as much of the agriculture possible. Nobody has been left unattended.

To witness people who have lost all there belongings including there houses saying on radio or TV that they will overcome tragedy and they are confident that they will not be forgotten by society. To see these people standing over the wreckage with such a strength and optimism makes all of us, who have not been so much affected, get the spirit to do what is needed to win this battle against adversity.

In the middle of the destruction school is starting today and the plans are to incorporate all our students from the basic school up to university in less than a week. There will be no single kid in Cuba without a teacher and a classroom. That is, for us teachers and professors, the biggest immediate challenge. But, we also have to care
about middle and long term consequence of this disaster. We have to think how can we not only survive but also move forward. We have to make our universities stronger and better. Our middle term challenge is to be capable of giving to our young students a better education and to
graduate more skillful professionals that can better serve their country.

In our institute we are assessing damages and discussing what to do. Our buildings did not suffer to much but some of our scientific equipments, already poor and outdated, will not survive this blow as they have been
soaked in water and in our tropical climate corrosion will unavoidably render them useless in no time and the electronic parts are also heavily damaged. Part of the ceiling were blown away in one of our building and air conditioner and acclimatization equipment was partially damaged. Rain was our worse enemy.

We would like through the IUCr, to reach to all our colleagues friends in crystallography around the world to help us as much as they can. Any help in infrastructure, equipment or financial resources is welcomed. The goal is to rebuild our crystallography laboratory that is the only
one in Cuba Universities. Today we do not know if we will be able to recover our old diffractometers and the country is pulling all their resources in much urgent needs that ours. Some may think that trying to make science in ours today condition makes no sense and we should instead concentrate in other efforts. We instead strongly believe that the capability of a country to rise itself depends in its ability to see beyond the urgent and project itself to the future. There is much more than buildings and houses to be reconstructed. To loose our ability to make science is to renounce to build a better country. To loose our ability to teach students in science, build skillful human resources, is to renounce to build a better country. We can not do that, and we will not do that. At least that much we owe to our youngest sons. Everything needed to make this possible will be done. We know we are not alone and we can count with our friends all over the world. If also ask if the IUCr could help us to channel any help that friends are willing to give us.

We have also decided to go on as planned with our crystallography school for July 2009. As you know we organize every two years an international school on crystallography were students mainly from Cuba and Latin
America come and get first hand state of the art lectures by invited renowned professors. Over the years this school has been an important part in the curricula of our students in physics, material science, chemistry, engineering and life science. To the school attend students from all over the country and from all universities in the country. We will submit the proposal for support to the IUCr in the next days. We also ask for professors willing to come to our school covering their cost and give lectures to please contact me so we can arrange the school program. We would like this year to give emphasis in protein crystallography, from single crystal to recent developments in powder methods. Yet as usual the school is open to other subjects.

I take the opportunity to thank you personally for the friendly support over the years.

King regards


Dr. Ernesto Estevez Rams

Deputy Director
Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnologia de Materiales
Universidad de la Habana
San Lazaro y L. CP 10400