In October 2012, the category three Hurricane Sandy hit Santiago de Cuba province hard, tearing through the coastal Gran Parque Natural de Baconao before wreaking havoc on Santiago city. Some 200,000 homes were damaged and 15,000 people lost their homes entirely; many buildings lost roofs, and the city was also almost entirely denuded of its trees and greenery. Even more tragically, eleven people lost their lives – an unusual occurrence in Cuba, as the government’s hurricane evacuation strategy is heralded the world over for its effectiveness, and fatalities are a rare event.
Immediately after the storm, the army was sent in to start on the clear up of the city. Six months on, though many families in the outskirts were still living in makeshift accommodation, the historic heart of Santiago was more or less back to normal, though many of the colonial-era buildings showed roof, tile and wall damage, and the lack of greenery remained noticeable. Indeed, some residents feel that the hurricane gave the city added impetus to perfect the regeneration of the city centre in time for the 500th anniversary.