These days, a lifeguard dressed in uniform does not wait even five minutes at a stop in the city of Matanzas. After six o’clock on Monday afternoon, backpack over his shoulder, Israel Tápanes Torres is in the area known as Viaducto, sticks out his arm and asks the newspaper car for a “bottle” Granma.
“To the Canimao?” he asks, and we say yes. We are heading to that hotel on the outskirts of the city, where part of our team, other journalists, and people facing the fire are staying.
Israel goes up. He is a young boy – he is 31 years old, we will find out later – he wears the red overalls of the Cuban Red Cross, and a black scarf around his neck, under which he shows a bandage that covers the burn on his neck.
Our curiosity is piqued, what is a lifeguard doing alone, at that hour, moving around the city? His story in this event began at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, August 6. It was the first time he had faced something like this.
At dawn on Saturday they were attending, in the area of the damaged tanks, the slight injuries of the firefighters, then there was the enormous explosion. “At that time it was about running, a huge vapor came above us, I ran and ran, and I felt it hit me in the neck.”
He doesn’t know what degree his burn is, the nurse didn’t tell him and he didn’t ask. His bosses preferred that he stay withdrawn in the lodging. He was not the rest of Saturday or Sunday. But after the complex morning of Monday, around noon, they sent for him, things promised to get uglier.
After a couple of explosions, they determined that the scenario would not get worse, “and they sent me back to rest.”
We want to know how things are “in there”, if there are wounded or casualties; He assures us that no, that there is no destruction in the Supertanker facilities, that every time the panorama gets complicated, the forces withdraw.
He says that after that first morning they are much more cautious and are very attentive to the slightest sign.
Israel is from Los Mangos, a neighborhood in the city of Matanzas; he has been a master of trades in the City Curator’s Office and is now a grocer in a military institution. He learned about the Red Cross through some friends, and decided that he wanted to join it.
After the COVID-19 pandemic subsided, less than a year ago, he did the necessary training and joined. At that time he participated alone in the search and rescue of missing persons.
When asked why he chose to take on such a risky assignment, he replies exactly, and just barely, the same as a lifelong lifeguard we interviewed on the ground hours earlier: “This is voluntary.”
We ask for your opinion on how the fire will evolve; His vision, after what he has talked to with his more experienced colleagues and firefighters, is hopeful.
He does not believe that new explosions can be superior to those already experienced there. But nothing is written letter in incidents of this type; except, perhaps, one thing: the will. And that – a car trip of just a few minutes is enough to ensure it – Israel is not lacking.