Hurricane Ian destroys power in Cuba

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

Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that work was continuing to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million residents overnight. Initially, power was cut to about 1 million people in Cuba’s western provinces, but later the entire grid collapsed.

Ian hit a Cuba struggling with an economic crisis and experiencing frequent power outages in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the island’s western tip, devastating Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the region ahead of Ian’s arrival, which caused flooding, destroyed homes and blew down trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no casualties had been reported as of Tuesday night.

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

Cubans deal with Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba
A vintage car walks past debris caused by Hurricane Ian as it passes through Pinar del Rio, Cuba, September 27, 2022.

Alexandre Meneghini / REUTERS

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

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

State media reported that Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the affected area.

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

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

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

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

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

Alexandre Meneghini / REUTERS

Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage to the main hospital in the city of Pinar del Rio, posting pictures on Twitter of collapsed roofs and fallen trees. No deaths were reported.

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

Hurricane Ian was forecast to make landfall along the west coast of peninsular Florida on Wednesday. As of Tuesday night, the storm was still churning in the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters allowed it to rapidly strengthen.

At 8 p.m. EDT Tuesday, Hurricane Ian was located about 180 miles south-southwest of Punta Gorda, Florida, and 20 miles south-southwest of the Dry Tortugas, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was moving north-northeast at 10 mph and had maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, making it a Category 3 storm.

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