Cuba Without Electricity After Hurricane Destroys Power Grid

HAVANA –

Hurricane Ian knocked out power across Cuba and devastated some of the country’s largest tobacco farms 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 was underway to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people overnight. Power was initially cut off for about 1 million people in Cuba’s western provinces, but then the entire grid collapsed.

Ian hit a Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power outages in recent months. He made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the western tip of the island, 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 area ahead of Ian’s arrival, which caused flooding, damaged homes and knocked 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.

“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, also the owner of cigar producer Finca Robaina, posted photos on social media of shattered wooden and thatched roofs, rubbled greenhouses and overturned wagons.

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

The Cuban Institute of Meteorology said that 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 here we are alive,” said Yusimi Palacios, a resident of Pinar del Río, who asked the authorities for a roof and a mattress.

Officials set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people and took 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 maximum sustained winds of 205 km/h.

Ian was expected to become even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching top winds of 209 km/h as it approached the southwestern coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.

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

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

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

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