Cuba’s power grid collapsed, leaving the country of 11 million people without electricity, after Hurricane Ian tore through the western end of the island.
Thousands of people were evacuated ahead of the severe storm, which made landfall early Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where much of the tobacco used for its cigars is grown.
Lázaro Guerra, technical director of Cuba’s Electric Union, said an outage in the national electrical system, partly due to the storm, affected the power grid.
Guerra said crews would work through the night and into early Wednesday to restore power, according to state media.
Cuban residents described the “destruction” and posted on social media images of flooded streets and trees downed by fierce winds. At the time of impact, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported Ian’s maximum wind speed as 205 km/h (127 mph) and said there were “significant impacts from the wind and storm surges”.
State media said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the affected region.
In Consolacion de Sur, 145 km southwest of Havana, Caridad Fernandez, 65, said his roof was badly damaged and water came through his front door.
“Everything we have is damaged,” she said. “But we will get through this, we will keep moving forward.”
In San Juan y Martinez, the hub of the cigar industry, “it was apocalyptic, a real disaster,” Hirochi Robaina of the Robaina tobacco plantation said on Facebook.
“I got through the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The masonry and zinc roof of the house had just been laid. But the storm destroyed it,” said Mercedes Valdés, who lives along the highway from Pinar del Río to San Juan y Martínez. “We couldn’t get our things back…we just ran away.”
Warm seas strengthen the storm
The storm is expected to strengthen as it crosses the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, with winds reaching 225 km/h (140 mph) as it approaches the southwest coast of Florida.
Winds are expected to reach hurricane force by Wednesday morning.
“Right now we are focusing on [the] West-central Florida is the primary impact area,” hurricane expert Andy Latto told the Associated Press news agency on Tuesday.
Hurricane Ian follows Hurricane Fiona, a powerful storm that killed at least a dozen people, knocked out power and caused extensive damage to homes and streets in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the Canada.
— National Hurricane Center (@NHC_Atlantic) September 27, 2022
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said about 2.5 million people were under evacuation orders in the state and warned that damage was expected across a wide area regardless of the weather. place where Ian touched down. He urged people to be prepared for power outages and to move away from the storm.
“When you have five to 10 foot storm surge, that’s not something you want to be a part of,” said DeSantis, who declared a statewide emergency and mobilized 5,000 troops. of the Florida National Guard, with 2,000 more on standby in neighboring states. States.
“And Mother Nature is a very formidable adversary,” he said.
US President Joe Biden has declared an emergency over the impending storm, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief and provide assistance to protect people. lives and property.
FEMA has strategically positioned generators, along with millions of meals and millions of gallons of water, to help, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
Tampa resident Gil Gonzalez mounted his windows with plywood on Tuesday and had sandbags ready to protect his home.
He and his wife had stocked up on bottled water and packed torches, batteries for their cell phones and a camp stove with a large propane burner as they prepared to evacuate.
“All the most valuable possessions, we put them upstairs in a friend’s house and nearby, and we loaded up the car,” Gonzalez said. “I think we are ready.”
Damaging winds and flooding are expected across the peninsula as Ian moves north, reaching Georgia, South Carolina and other parts of the southeastern United States between Friday and Sunday, it said. the NHC.