Powerful Hurricane Ian left a trail of destruction and caused a widespread blackout in Cuba on Tuesday, while Florida residents braced for a direct hit from the “extremely dangerous” storm that is already pummeling the US state with high winds.
Ian hit Cuba’s western regions for more than five hours early Tuesday morning, before moving out over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the Insmet meteorological institute said.
The storm damaged Cuba’s power network and plunged the island into darkness, leaving it “without electrical service,” state electricity company Union Electrica said on Twitter.
Only the few people with gasoline-powered generators had access to electricity on the island of more than 11 million people. Others had to make do with flashlights or candles at home, and lit their way with cell phones as they walked the streets.
In the western city of Pinar del Rio, AFP footage showed downed power lines, flooded streets and a scattering of damaged rooftops.
About 40,000 people were evacuated across Pinar del Rio province, which bore the brunt of the storm, local authorities said.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said it expects Ian to gain strength before hitting the west coast of Florida on Wednesday as an “extremely dangerous” major hurricane.
Calls to heed evacuation warnings were echoed from local Florida officials on up to US President Joe Biden, who said Ian “could be a very severe hurricane, life-threatening and devastating in its impact.”
In its latest bulletin, the NHC said to be prepared for “life-threatening storm surge, catastrophic winds and flooding” in the Florida peninsula.
Tropical-storm-force winds are already battering the Florida Keys, the chain of islands off the southern tip of the state’s mainland, the NHC said.
In Cuba, authorities are just beginning to assess the damage, but residents described “destruction” and posted images on social media of flooded streets and felled trees.
At the time of impact, the NHC reported Ian’s maximum wind speeds at 125 miles (205 kilometers) per hour, making it a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale. Wind speeds have since dropped slightly to 120 miles per hour.
( Source AFP)