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Cuba begins to turn lights back on after Hurricane Ian blacks out island

Fallen utility poles and branches line a street after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba (Ramon Espinosa/AP)
Fallen utility poles and branches line a street after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Cuban officials said they have begun to restore some power after Hurricane Ian knocked out electricity to the entire island while devastating some of the country’s most important tobacco farms when it hit the island’s western tip as a major storm.

At least two people were reported killed.

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.

Lights started to flicker on in the capital Havana, but much of the city and other parts of western Cuba remained without power on Wednesday in the wake of the major hurricane, which had advanced northward to Florida.

Likely path of hurricane Ian
(PA Graphics)

It was the first time in memory – perhaps ever – that the whole island had lost power.

On Tuesday, 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 Rio 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 toppled trees.

State media reported two deaths in the province: a woman killed by a falling wall and another by a collapsed roof.

Ian’s winds damaged one of Cuba’s most prestigious tobacco farms, Finca 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.

Mr Robaina posted photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.

Fallen electricity lines, metal and tree branches litter a street after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba
Fallen electricity lines, metal and tree branches litter a street after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the affected region, telling the population: “Although the first impact is very painful, there’s nothing to do but overcome the adversity.”

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

Officials had set up 55 shelters and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.

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

Ian was even stronger on Wednesday as it approached the coast of Florida with top winds of 155mph, threatening to cause catastrophic damage there.

In Cuba, 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.

Videos on social media showed downed power lines and cut off roads in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque.

A family walks in the rain in search of shelter after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba
A family walks in the rain in search of shelter after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

A hospital in Pinar del Rio was damaged.

“The town is flooded,” said farmer Andy Munoz, 37, who lives in Playa Cajio in Artemisa.

He said many people lost their belongings due to the storm surge.

“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 Valdes, who lives along the highway connecting Pinar del Rio to San Juan y Martinez.

“We couldn’t rescue our things … we just ran out.”