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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Left in the dark after Hurricane Ian, Cuba begins restoring power

A darkened Havana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. The storm knocked out electricity to the entire island.

By Camila Acosta and Maria Abi-Habib

State employees began restoring electricity in parts of Cuba on Wednesday after the nation’s power grid was knocked out by Hurricane Ian, which continued to buffet the island’s north shore with strong winds and some flooding as it lashed Florida’s coast.

The storm’s damage was particularly severe in Pinar del Rio province, home to the tobacco farms that supply Cuba’s famous cigar industry, with the hurricane damaging more than 5,000 farms there, according to state media.

Top government officials from Havana visited the province, which also lost telephone service. They promised to restore power to schools and hospitals and begin rebuilding.

The storm was still causing strong winds that created minor tidal waves in Havana and in other northern areas, leading to “moderate coastal flooding,” according to state media, citing the nation’s Institute of Meteorology. More than 16,200 people have been evacuated because of the storm.

By Wednesday, the worst of the hurricane appeared to be over, and Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero declared that the country would begin recovery efforts.

“In the shortest time possible, we will move forward,” Marreo tweeted Wednesday morning.

Hurricane Ian slammed into the western part of the Caribbean island on Tuesday as a powerful Category 3 storm, bringing winds of up to 125 mph, dumping several inches of rain and causing deadly flooding. The two deaths occurred Tuesday in Pinar del Rio.

The biggest damage so far has been to Cuba’s power grid, telecommunications network and its agricultural sector, according to state media.

“Aid is already pouring in from all over the country,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdezl said in remarks reported by state media. “Rest assured that we will recover.”

On Wednesday morning, Díaz-Canel toured the damage in Havana, the capital, and attended a meeting of the province’s Defense Council.

The storm knocked down more than 1,000 trees and caused a complete collapse of the country’s electrical system, according to state media.

Cuba’s electric grid is divided into three sections, and power was slowly coming back on in the eastern part of the country, where the hurricane had done little to no damage, the national electricity company, Unión Eléctrica, and state media said in a series of tweets.

Government officials hope to start generating enough power in the east and center to connect all three sections.

It remained to be seen whether the devastation wrought by Hurricane Ian would intensify a steady surge of migrants fleeing Cuba and headed toward the United States. Nearly 200,000 Cubans have been intercepted by American border officials so far this year, the largest migration from the island in recorded history, according to federal officials in Washington.

In interviews, many migrants have said they are fleeing dire economic and social conditions on the island, where food is scarce and the country’s once-storied medical system is under strain. Others have fled ramped-up government repression of political dissidents, with activists arrested or intimidated after a wave of anti-establishment protests last year.

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