By ANITA LEE
BILOXI — Cuba’s chief meteorologist, an icon in his country, participated in a hurricane-preparedness conference Thursday with Harrison County officials at IP Casino Resort.
Harrison County representatives visited Cuba in May to learn more about the country’s hurricane preparedness and emergency medical response. A contingent from Cuba came here to continue the conversation. Their visas were held up until the last minute.
Jose Rubiera, director of Cuba’s National Forecasting Center and meteorologist on national television there, told an audience of Coast emergency responders: “A hurricane doesn’t need a visa to come from Cuba. … Borders are made by man.”
He said Cuba and the United States have long exchanged hurricane-forecasting information, a practice that continued even after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
Rubiera is, in fact, on friendly terms with his counterparts at the National Hurricane Center.
Cuba and other countries, including the U.S., freely exchange radar and forecast information, and coordinate hurricane watches and warnings, Rubiera said. Hurricane Hunters also fly into Cuban air space to collect hurricane data.
Harrison County officials talked about what they had learned from their Cuban visit, sponsored by the Ford Foundation. They said Cuba has a superior system for hurricane preparedness.
Children learn from the time they are in kindergarten about being prepared for hurricanes. They have drills and extensive education during their school years.
As a result, Cubans are prepared to evacuate when hurricanes approach. They don’t become complacent as many Coast residents do once a threat has passed.
Cubans take their most needed and expensive personal possessions with them, rather than depending on insurance companies for replacement. Those possessions are stored in government warehouses.
Cuba also is working to harden housing against hurricane damage.
Harrison County panelists — including Supervisor Connie Rockco, emergency management chief Rupert Lacy and former emergency management head Joe Spraggins — said Cubans were very friendly to Americans and happy to have them in the country.
Cubans are eager to learn more about oil spills from this country, as Cuba is drilling a deepwater well near the Gulf stream. America had the chance to cooperate with Cuba on the venture, but turned it down. Instead, Cuba is joining with Venezuela and China.
Panel moderator Wayne Smith of the Center for International Policy said America is now the only country in the Western Hemisphere that has not established diplomatic and trade relations with Cuba, even though the U.S. has relations with totalitarian regimes such as China.
Still, Smith said, our two countries can cooperate in areas of common interests. The visits between countries are designed to foster that cooperation where hurricanes are concerned.