On the evening of September 7, 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall in Gibara, Cuba.
Twelve meter high waves and winds of up to 209 km an hour lashed the coast, flattening homes, decimating crops, and turning whole communities to rubble. 70% of Gibara's homes were damaged, many ruined beyond repair.
|Gibara waterfront September 2008. Hiram Enriquez of Digital Stucco|
|Along the waterfront February 2017|
After the storm passed through Cuba, it moved on to Texas. There, residents refused to obey their mandatory evacuation order. Despite being a "first world country", despite warnings of certain death, 200,000 of those under evacuation notice refused to leave their homes. Of the 195 who died in Hurricane Ike, 113 were in Texas.
|September 2008 Hiram Enriquez of Digital Stucco|
It has taken them years.
|Downtown Gibara today|
You'll see the charming colonial Hotel Ordona and the newly opened Hotel Arsenita, waiting for tourists.
You'll see stained glass and brilliant paint. You'll find a quaint museum with its dioramas and an enormous whale skeleton.
You'll find hilltop miradors and cafes with spectacular views.
You'll find peaceful homestays with lovely courtyards and rooftop patios.
You'll see the fabulous Cinema Jiba, home to the yearly "Poor Man's Film Festival."
You'll find older people who smile and shake your hand and thank you for coming to their town with your tourist dollar.
You'll see dignity.
You'll see resilience.
On May 15, 2011, disaster visited Slave Lake. 130 km an hour winds and a massive wall of flame raced through my town. Thousands of people jumped into their vehicles and evacuated themselves without any public warning or formal evacuation notice. There were no deaths. But the destruction was immense.
More than 400 homes were lost in the Slave Lake wildfire-a far cry from the 43,000 homes destroyed in Cuba by Hurricane Ike. But unlike the Cubans, the people of Slave Lake had insurance. They had government assistance. My town had millions in donations from people around the world through the Red Cross and other agencies.
The people of Slave Lake, like the people of Gibara, picked themselves up and got on with rebuilding. Because that is what you do.
Six years on you would not know anything happened in my town. We have buried the scars of our disaster behind the facades of our beautiful new houses and lovely landscaping and brand new public buildings. You'll see no reference to the wildfire, not even in the name of the Legacy Centre, built almost entirely with disaster recovery money.
|Ruins along the seawall.|
Not so Gibara.
You still see its scars in the ruined concrete along the sea wall.
You see the damages in the broken pavements and boarded up windows.
You see the history of their struggle written on walls still waiting to be restored.
Most of all, you see its spirit.
The spirit of its people who are quietly getting on with life.
Because that is what you do.