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Cuba without electricity after hurricane hammers power grid

Hurricane Ian over the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA via AP)
Hurricane Ian over the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA via AP)

Hurricane Ian has knocked out power across all of Cuba and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco farms after slamming into the island’s western tip as a major hurricane.

Cuba’s Electric Union said in a statement on Tuesday 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.

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.

Cuba Tropical Weather
A plantain farm is brought down by the winds of Hurricane Ian in Artemisa, Cuba (Ismael Francisco/AP)

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.

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

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

Cuba’s Meteorology Institute said the city of Pinar del Rio was in the 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 Yusimi Palacios, who asked authorities for a roof and a mattress.

Tropical Weather Florida
The hurricane is expected to hit Tampa Bay in the next few days (Phelan M Ebenhack/AP)

Officials had set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, 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 125 mph (205 kph).

Ian was expected to get even stronger over the warm Gulf of Mexico, reaching top winds of 130 mph (209 kph) approaching the southwestern coast of Florida, where 2.5 million people were ordered to evacuate.

As the storm’s centre moved into the Gulf, scenes of destruction emerged in Cuba. Authorities were still assessing the damage in its world-famous tobacco belt.

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.