HAVANA, Cuba (AP) — 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.
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.
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.
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.
Officials had 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” 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 center 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.