Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Sep 27 (EFE).- Hurricane Ian, now a Category 3 storm on the 5-point Saffir-Simpson scale, on Tuesday wrought extensive material damage in western Cuba, bringing heavy rain and strong winds on its passage north toward Florida.
Although the fourth hurricane of the Atlantic storm season and the first this year to affect Cuba did a lot of damage on the communist island, for the moment there have been no reports of injuries or worse. Even so, the number of people suffering property damage is certainly in the tens of thousands and more than 50,000 were evacuated from high-danger areas.
The storm, as EFE verified, ripped off roofs, downed countless trees and power poles, flooded streets and roadways, toppled two towers at baseball stadiums, inundated homes and affected stores, factories, crops and tobacco warehouses.
Land and maritime transport has been halted for now, and the state-run Union Electrica de Cuba (UNE) has completely suspended electrical service in the provinces of Pinar del Rio and La Habana to try and prevent electrocution and fire incidents involving active power lines after winds of more than 200 kilometers (125 miles) per hours brought down much wiring.
Cuban authorities are initially talking about “considerable” damage and President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who departed for Pinar del Rio on Tuesday afternoon, promised to focus “all the country’s efforts to immediately remove the damage.”
Everyone EFE spoke to said that it was the worst storm they had ever experienced, despite the fact that Pinar del Rio is an area that is frequently affected by hurricanes. Three Category 3 storms have hit Cuba in the past 20 years.
“Never in my 62 years had I seen something like this. We’ve lost everything,” Maritza Cueto, a resident of a humble neighborhood who was heading along the road to the town of La Coloma, told EFE.
Hector Polanco, 32, told EFE that the roof of his house, where he lives with his mother and four-month-old son, collapsed on them early Tuesday morning. “We had to shout ‘Help!’ so our neighbors could come and get us out,” he said.
Ian made landfall in Cuba at 3:24 am at the southwestern town of La Coloma, packing maximum sustained winds greater than 200 kph and moving northwards at at least 20 km per hour (12.5 mph).
In the past 24 hours, heavy and even intense rainfall has been experienced in western Cuba with a maximum of 108.3 millimeters (4.3 inches) registered at the Amistad Cuba-Francia weather station on Isla de la Juventud.
Hurricane force winds were felt in the western third of the island with the strongest gust measured at 208 kph (129 mph) in the town of San Juan y Martinez.
The Cuban Weather Institute (Insmet) said that heavy coastal flooding had been reported at some spots along the Pinar del Rio coastline, especially in the Gulf of Guanahacabibes, and moderate flooding was occurring along the southern coast of the Isla de la Juventud and at other spots in the western part of Cuba.
When the eye of the hurricane – measured at 32 km (20 mi.) in diameter – passed over certain spots on the island, local residents experienced a calm and virtually rain-free period of between 48 and 90 minutes.
The eye of the storm moved completely out into the Gulf of Mexico across the northwestern Cuban coast about 11:40 am at Puerto Esperanza after Ian weakened slightly on its passage over land.
The Insmet forecasts, however, that Ian will regain strength in the coming hours and may even become a Category 4 storm before it strikes Florida, presumably somewhere along its western coast.
Havana, which is both the capital of Cuba and the largest city, was not in Ian’s crosshairs, but it, too, was affected by the storm, with intense rain and heavy winds of up to 100 kph (62 mph), a situation that could lead to accidents and injury due to the poor condition of many of the houses and buildings there.
The effects of the storm will still be felt for hours in Cuba, with intense rain and heavy winds forecast for the entire day on Tuesday and lessening effects up through Wednesday as Ian moves away from the island.