Fidel, a Hurricane Hunter

Faced with the destroyed roads, mutilated trees and the rubble and wanting to administer the people after hurricane Flora in 1963, the hope was in the olive green worn by the Commander in Chief.

By: Yunet López


2016-10-11 | 13:13:44 EST
In the hurricane, with helmet and jacket, the Cuban leader came to the most devastated sites.In the hurricane, with helmet and jacket, the Cuban leader came to the most devastated sites. Photo: Archivo de BohemiaZoom

October 7, 2016 0:05:07 CDT


“Fidel has come, now we´re really saved!” Those were the happy cries and among those with their hands raised on the roofs and ruins of damaged houses, when they saw a helicopter from

Cauto del Paso, Granma.


It was the first few days of October 1963 and Flora, a category four hurricane, from the fourth had thrashed the extreme East of Cuba.


That night, in the old presidential palace, after receiving the Russian Valentina Tereskova, the first female cosmonaut, Fidel changed his dress suit for his olive green battle dress and, like any worried parent when their children are in danger, left for Las Villas deciding to go to Oriente.


This is how the book Fidel al frente del rescate (Fidel leading the rescue) , by Lieutenant Colonel and journalist Elvin J. Fontaine, related the ups and downs of those painful days through the events which JR is relating 53 years later, connecting to the passage of Matthew.

The journey by the leader to the extreme East of Cuba was not easy, many times the Chief was upset by the current which impeded his transit on the roads.


Commander Juan Almeida recalls it by writing: “Fidel had followed the passage of the hurricane with all the news he could on the route. But the deep flooding forced him to change. First by car, then in a Jeep, then a truck, later an amphibian, and finally by swimming, helping those companions who with him found themselves in critical situations, almost drowning, struggling in the water with electrical equipment, some cameras and a boat.”


Fidel was worried about the situation of the victims of Hurricane Flora


The La Rioja river bank, on the way to Holguin, twitched and writhed like a liquid snake. Someone suggested looking for a guide, but Fidel was in a hurry to carry on. With his bulletproof determination he embarked on amphibion, but hit a tree.


"There are many versions about his rescue, but nobody really saved him. He came alone and then we reached him with a truck and ropes ", says Wilfredo Batista, then secretary of the United Party of the Socialist Revolution of Cuba (PURSC) in the municipality of Calixto Garcia, Holguin.


Nothing stopped Fidel, not flooded roads or fallen logs or the stubborn presence of Flora, which was four days punishing the eastern region, causing the biggest flood in the history of our country and with that today, after more than 50 years, is remembered as one of the most devastating hurricanes that has passed through Cuba.


Many say that fear was frightened of Fidel for how risky it was, because on many occasions he risked his life to save those who had been cut off by heavy rains.


They say that on one occasion, in the insistent struggle to reach the saddest sites, several of those who were accompanying him were on a tree in the middle of the water. When Fidel wanted to get on the boat to rescue them, someone worried about his security and told him he could not do that, that it was dangerous, irresponsible. But he was upset: "To do you must take me prisoner, and to take me prisoner you must kill me." Then he mounted and removed them.

The Commander in Chief organized and led many of the rescue missions and delivery of medicines, clothing and food to the victims by helicopters, trucks, boats or amphibians. There he was, and amid the gusts insisted on continuing to help the people hurt by water and wind.

He never tires

It was a ham radio plant which led to another fright in the midst of the tempestuous visit of Flora. It repeated the possibility that Fidel had suffered an accident in Bayamo, while in the midst of disaster left by the hurricane.

Given the worsening news of the situation in East, two helicopter squadrons, along with other media, went looking for the leader.

´Your´ve not heard anything of where Fidel is? Almeida asked a young man of Cauto Cristo.

Yes, yes, yes, they say he´s around here, there, right there.

And so they found him, alive, with a helmet, concerned about all the misfortunes he had seen, and with no signs of exhaustion, even when others were already exhausted. Fidel does not get tired, they commented.

Bienvenido Perez Salazar, chief captain of his bodyguard until 1970, knows this well when he says: "The commander did not stop day or night; he went directly to the houses to bring them food and encourage people. "

He always wore his boots during the cyclone. In the midst of the disaster, where he arrived, people gathered to hear him. The women came with their children to see him. And people pressed with their hands, trying to touch him. He heard them all, like the initiates listen to the wise, very carefully.

"Look, Commander, I lost three children, I lost my mother ... I lost everything," said a farmer. "We are left with nothing, we are here even without shoes," said another. And he had not even finished the sentence when Fidel took off his boots and gave them to him. Then he turned to the people with him and ordered: You hand over your boots!

To the house of Manuel Guajiro Verdecia, in the neighborhood Les Cayes, in Granma, he came as a surprise. "He asked how the hurricane had passed and what we had lost. He asked a lot; when one answered a question he came back with three. "

And he was visiting the dwellings that were left standing like spent candles after years in the dark, revealing his wounds after the fierce battle.

"What was it like?" They were his first words when he entered the house of peasants in Verdecia. Manuel was ten years old and remembers everything, "The older ones sought a dining table and a chair and he sat in the portal; everyone talked and he asked a lot. That night there he spoke of Military Service of Agrarian Reform, land, irrigation. He promised a doctor as soon  a place was built. "

His father, Jesus, was with his pants cut, shoeless and shirtless. Fidel was interested in what they had lost and how many there were. ´25´, replied the peasant, and "we got so much food that I could not get it in a bag. He immediately got a doctor to treat us," he said.

The landscape was bleak. There were bodies of people on the roads, on wire fences, bodies of men, women and children drowned, and sadness like a shadow in the swollen eyes of those who lost up to the road to the house, but managed to stay alive.

Many cried when they saw him appear, as although they had only the clothes they were wearing, looking closely at Fidel was the hope that they were not alone and again the ceilings and walls would rise.

He was always a hunter of hurricane water, and then when the calm returned, revealing the broken roads, mutilated trees and debris as if to administer the people, Fidel began the hard struggle of recovery.


He was a young man of 37 when Flora wrapped the East in a loop of tears, just five years after birth of the Revolution. It was like a stormy baptism of water for the guerrilla in the Sierra. And after that war of rain and wind in 1963, others came. Biran´s son continued to pursue hurricanes. For him, his people overflowed more than rivers.

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