Hurricane Ian paralyzes electricity in Cuba: “It was apocalyptic”


Hurricane Ian cut power across Cuba and devastated some of the country’s main tobacco farms when it struck the western tip of the island in a major hurricane on Tuesday. At least two people were reported killed.

Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that it is working to gradually restore power to the country’s 11 million residents during the night. Initially, about 1 million people in the western provinces of Cuba lost power, but later the entire power grid collapsed.

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

But the capital Havana and other parts of western Cuba remained without power on Wednesday after the major hurricane made its way north into Florida.

Ian met a Cuba struggling with an economic crisis and frequent power outages in recent months. It made Landing as Category 3 Storm on the west end of the island, devastating Pinar del Río province, which grows much of the tobacco used in Cuba’s iconic cigars.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and others fled the area ahead of Ian’s arrival, causing flooding, damaged homes and downed trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no casualties had been reported as of Tuesday evening.

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

Cubans face Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba
A vintage car drives past debris caused by Hurricane Ian as it passed in Pinar del Rio, Cuba 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 brought to international fame.

Robaina, also owner of cigar producer Finca Robaina, posted photos on social media of wooden and thatched roofs being razed, greenhouses in ruins and railroad cars overturned.

State media reported that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel had visited the affected region.

Cuba’s Institute of Meteorology said the city of Pinar del Río was the worst-hit by the hurricane for an hour and a half.

“Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are alive here,” said Yusimí Palacios from 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 measures to protect crops, especially tobacco.

The US National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” as the hurricane struck with sustained peak winds of 125 mph.

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

Alexandre Meneghini / REUTERS

Local government broadcaster TelePinar reported severe damage to the main hospital in the town of Pinar del Rio, tweeting photos of collapsed ceilings and downed trees. No deaths were reported.

“I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The brickwork 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 to San Juan and Martinez. “We couldn’t salvage our stuff … we just went out.”

Hurricane Ian continued north through the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall on Florida’s west coast on Wednesday afternoon Strengthening to a category 4, approaching that at the top of the scale.

Coastal areas around Fort Myers, Fla., have been warned by the National Hurricane Center to prepare for a storm surge that could see water levels rise 12 to 16 feet above normal if peak tide coincides with high tide. The next flood in the region was expected around 7 p.m. local time.

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