Hurricane Ian: Cuba without electricity


Hurricane Ian knocked out power across Cuba and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco plantations when it slammed into the western tip of the island as a major hurricane on Tuesday.

Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that work is underway to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million residents overnight. Electricity was first cut off to around 1 million people in the western provinces of Cuba, but later the entire grid collapsed.

Ian hit a Cuba that is struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power cuts in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the western end of the island, devastating Pinar del Rio province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s signature cigars is grown.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area before Ian arrived, causing flooding, damaging homes and toppling trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no casualties were reported Tuesday evening.

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

« It was apocalyptic, a real disaster, » said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather made known internationally.

Robaina, who also owns cigar producer Finca Robaina, posted photos on social media of broken wooden and thatched roofs on the ground, greenhouses in rubble and overturned wagons.

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

The Cuban Meteorological Institute said the town of Pinar del Rio was at the worst of the hurricane for an hour and a half.

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

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

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba experienced « significant wind and storm surge impacts » when the hurricane struck with sustained winds of 205 km/h.

Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching winds of 209 km/h as it approached the southwest coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to ‘clear out.

As the center of the storm moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba. Authorities were still assessing the damage in its world famous tobacco belt.

Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage to the main hospital in the city of Pinar del Rio, tweeting pictures of collapsed ceilings and downed trees. No deaths have been reported.

« I got through the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The masonry and zinc roof of the house had just been installed. But the storm tore it off, » says Mercedes Valdes, who lives in the along the highway linking Pinar del Rio to San Juan and Martínez. « We couldn’t save our stuff…we just ran away. »


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