Hurricane Ian knocks out power in Cuba: “It was apocalyptic”

Hurricane Ian swept across Cuba and destroyed some of the country’s most important tobacco farms as it slammed into the island’s western tip as a major hurricane on Tuesday. At least two people are reported killed.

Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that work was underway to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people overnight. Power was initially knocked out to about 1 million people in Cuba’s western provinces, but later the entire grid collapsed.

On Wednesday, the Department of Energy and Mines announced that it had restored power to three regions by activating two large power plants in Felton and Nuevitas and was working to bring others back online.

But the capital Havana and other parts of western Cuba remained without power on Wednesday in the wake of the major hurricane, which had moved north to Florida.

Ian hit a Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has suffered frequent power outages in recent months. It did landing as a category 3 storm on the island’s western end, devastating Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used in Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area ahead of the arrival of Ian, which caused flooding, damaged houses and blown down trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no casualties had been reported as of Tuesday evening.

Ian’s winds damaged one of Cuba’s most important tobacco farms in La Robaina.

Cubans face Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba
A vintage car passes debris caused by Hurricane Ian as it passed in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, on September 27, 2022.

Alexandre Meneghini / REUTERS

“It was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather made famous internationally.

Robaina, also the owner of the Finca Robaina cigar maker, posted pictures on social media of wood-and-thatched roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.

State media said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the affected region.

Cuba’s Meteorological Institute said the city of Pinar del Río was in the worst of the hurricane for an hour and a half.

“Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are here alive,” said Yusimí Palacios, a resident of Pinar del Rio, who asked the authorities for a roof and a mattress.

Officials had set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people and taken steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.

The US National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” as the hurricane hit with sustained high winds of 125 mph (205 km/h).

Cubans face Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba
People walk past an electrical transformer lying on the street in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, on September 27, 2022.

Alexandre Meneghini / REUTERS

Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage to the main hospital in Pinar del Rio city, tweeting images of collapsed ceilings and fallen trees. No deaths were reported.

“I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The house’s masonry and zinc roof had just been installed. But the storm tore it down,” said Mercedes Valdés, who lives along the highway that connects Pinar del Río to San Juan and Martínez. “We couldn’t save our stuff … we just ran out.”

Hurricane Ian continued north through the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall along Florida’s west coast the following Wednesday afternoon strengthening to a category 4 approaching top of the scale.

Coastal areas around Fort Myers, Florida were warned by the National Hurricane Center to prepare for a storm surge that could see water levels rise 12 to 16 feet above normal levels if the peak surge coincided with high tide. The next high tide in the region was expected around 19:00 local time.

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