HAvana (TN) – Cuba remained in darkness early Wednesday after Hurricane Ian knocked down its power grid and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco farms when it hit the western tip of the island as a major hurricane.
Officials were working overnight to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people, according to a statement from Cuba’s Electric Union. In Cuba’s western provinces, electricity was initially cut off for about one million people, but later the entire grid collapsed.
Ian hit out at Cuba, which is reeling from an economic crisis and frequent power cuts in recent months. It made landfall on the western end of the island as a Category 3 hurricane, ravaging Pinar del Río province, where much of the tobacco used for Cuba’s iconic cigars is grown.
Thousands of people were evacuated and others fled before Ian arrived, causing floods, damage to houses and downed trees. Officials were still assessing the damage, although no casualties were reported as of Tuesday night.
Ian’s winds damaged one of Cuba’s most important tobacco farms at La Robena.
“It was the apocalypse, a real disaster,” said Hirochi Robena, the owner of the farm, which bears his name and that his grandfather has known internationally.
Robena, the owner of the Finca Robena cigar maker, posted photos on social media of wooden and thatch roofs, greenhouses and wagons overturning in the rubble.
State media said Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the affected area.
“It was terrible for me to be in the storm, but we are alive here,” said Pinar del Rio resident Yusimi Palacios, who asked officials for a roof and a mattress.
The authorities had set up 55 shelters and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.
The US National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and hurricane effects” when the storm struck with peak sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph).
Ian was expected to strengthen even more over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching peak winds of 130 mph (209 kph) near the southwest coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were expected to evacuate. was ordered.
As the center of the storm moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba. Officials were still assessing damages in its world-famous tobacco belt.
Local government station Telepinner reported heavy damage at the main hospital in the city of Pinar del Río, tweeting photos of collapsed roofs and fallen trees. No death was reported.
Videos on social media showed power lines downed and roads cut in Pinar del Río, Artemisa and Mayabec provinces. A hospital in Pinar del Río was damaged.
“The city is flooded,” said farmer Andy Munoz, 37, who lives in Playa Cazio in Artemisa.
He said that many people lost their belongings due to the storm.
“I spent the storm at home with my husband and dog. The house’s masonry and zinc roof had just been put up. But the storm broke it,” said Mercedes Valdés, who connects Pinar del Río to San Juan y Martínez. Lives along the highway. “We couldn’t save our belongings… we just ran away.”
TN journalist Osvaldo Angulo in Pinar del Río contributed to this report.