Italy to Help Havana's Old Buildings

Friday, August 20, 1999; 10:02 p.m. EDT

HAVANA (AP) -- Italy agreed on Friday to help Cuba ease the danger of building collapses in picturesque but decaying Old Havana and to rebuild a provincial hospital damaged by a hurricane.

The equivalent of about $600,000 will go to reinforce old buildings and for devices to help rescue workers in cases of building collapses, said Julio Portieles, secretary of the administrative council for the Old Havana district.

City officials say that about 15 to 20 buildings, holding roughly 200 homes, collapse each year in the famed colonial-era heart of the Cuban capital, whose graceful architecture beside the sea draws tourists from around the world.

A massive reconstruction effort has dramatically improved the area's appearance in recent years and eliminated many of the worst hazards. But Portieles said that only about 15 percent of the buildings so far have been reinforced or renovated due to lack of funds.

In the capital as a whole, he said, officials estimate that 60 percent of the buildings are in poor condition.

About $300,000 will go toward repairs to a psychiatric hospital and construction of facilities for pregnant mothers and newborns in the central province of Cienfuegos. The psychiatric hospital there had been damaged by Hurricane Lili in 1996.

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press