Hurricane Irma was closest to Havana at night, when it lingered near Punta Hicacos, which was when Miguel García, alias "Pantera", a street vendor in Jaimanitas, heard, through the thunder of the storm, the terrified squeals of a pig.
"I was perched on a closet, trying to save myself," Pantera says, "when I heard the pig squealing. My family was evacuated at 6:00 in the afternoon, with the house flooded. I didn't want to leave, in order to take care of things. I never thought it would be like that. We lost everything, even two sacks of avocados and a sweets box where I had the money."
"I looked out the window and I saw it, thanks to the light from the lightning flashes, struggling in the waves. Then I got the idea of saving it, whatever it took. Although there was a lot of water, I went out to look for it. Then a wave came, carrying the pig. When it passed by my side, I grabbed it firmly by one leg. And the water then pulled us towards the beach."
Pantera says that he feared for his life when he saw himself so far from his home.
"The current turned and I almost lost the pig, who apparently understood my intention to save him, because he let me take him. Sometimes he would cooperate. He floated and I would regain my strength."
The water swept them —embraced, like brothers— to the Marcelo Salado Social Circle.
"Sometimes we looked at each other, to comfort one another, because it was a real odyssey we were on." Pantera and the pig watched as the waves washed away all the windows and doors of Marcelo's bar, which was completely lost. As was the pizzeria, the cafeteria and the restaurant.
"And even more would have been lost, but, in the afternoon, the workers took all the valuables to their homes," shared a resident of the social circle who monitored the conveyance of the goods. "Now all that is blamed on the cyclone."
"Then, the current turned us eastward, towards the Los Marinos social circle, where the destruction was worse," Pantera continues. "There were tons of sand filling the lobby and the offices on the first floor."
"Yes, tons," confirms "El Rasta" while pushing a wheelbarrow full of sand for his house. He dumps it in the room and heads to the shore for more. "This is trip 59," he says. "What the Poder Popular did not give me, Nature did. Now I'm finally going to finish my house."
Pantera and the pig rested for a while on a beach umbrella that had survived, until a wave swept them toward the mouth of the river, where, to their astonishment, the rubble and stones had disappeared. "It was all a strange, fine white sand there," he recalls.
"That was what it was like before 1959," Fello said the next day. The story of Pantera saving the pig had already become local lore. "That area had a lot of bustle and commerce. There were several inns, and bars: El Cañón, Miami and the Club Playa. And booths for the rental of swimwear, bicycles and diving equipment. All that ended with the cyclone of the revolution, which turned the place into a large dump. But look now! The sand is back! We'll see how long it lasts."
Pantera estimates that it was 3:00 in the morning when they managed to climb onto a board and pass across from the old Society. The cyclone had pilled all the rocks from the bottom in the street.
The scenario the next day was bleak. Many families' houses were flooded and their belongings, lost. There was no water, electricity or food. The townspeople shuffled along the coast, taking in the destruction. Strange objects had washed shore. Nico "the painter" collected a bucket of clams. He said they were extremely nourishing and did not require cooking, just salt and lemon. He encouraged others to collect them.
"It was beginning to clear up when we finally reached the cistern, which was barely visible through the water, but we managed to climb up. We were exhausted. The pig fell at my feet, grateful. I really have become fond of him."
When Pantera told his friends the story, he showed them how high the water had reached, and the cistern that saved them. The pig was lying in one corner, content.
"And now what will you do with him?" asked an acquaintance.
"Kill him! That's what I saved him for! I lost everything. Thanks to him I'll survive these days. I'm going to sell half, to save my business. I'll roast the other half, and ration it out —he accentuates— because it will be the sustenance for my family until life gets back to normal."