Hurricane Ian knocked out power across all of Cuba and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco farms when it slammed into the island’s western tip as a major hurricane Tuesday. At least two people were reported killed.
Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement that work was underway to gradually restore service to the country’s 11 million people during the night. Power was initially knocked out to about 1 million people in Cuba’s western provinces, but later the entire grid collapsed.
By Wednesday, the Energy and Mines Ministry announced it had restored energy to three regions by activating two large power plants in Felton and Nuevitas and was working to get others back on line.
But the capital, Havana, and other parts of western Cuba remained without power on Wednesday in the wake of the major hurricane, which had advanced northward to Florida.
Ian hit a Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power outages in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the island’s western end, 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 the arrival of Ian, which caused flooding, damaged houses and blew toppled trees. Authorities were still assessing the damage, although no victims had been reported by 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 the Finca Robaina cigar producer, posted photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.
State media said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the affected region.
Cuba’s Meteorology Institute said the city of Pinar del Río was in worst of the hurricane for an hour and a half.
“Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are here alive,” said Pinar del Rio resident Yusimí Palacios, who asked authorities for a roof and a mattress.
Officials had set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered “significant wind and storm surge impacts” when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph).
Local government station TelePinar reported heavy damage at the main hospital in Pinar del Rio city, 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 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 connecting Pinar del Río to San Juan y Martínez. “We couldn’t rescue our things … we just ran out.”
Hurricane Ian continued northward through the Gulf of Mexico, making landfall along the west coast of Florida on Wednesday afternoon after strengthening to a Category 4, approaching the top of the scale.
Coastal areas around Fort Myers, Florida were warned by the National Hurricane Center to brace for a storm surge that could see water levels rise 12 to 16 feet above normal levels, if the peak surge coincided with high tide. The next high tide in the region was expected at about 7 p.m. local time.