Cuba’s westernmost province was battered by Category 3 Hurricane Ian during the early hours Tuesday, leaving destruction and uncertainty among the residents of small towns and the city of Pinar del Río.
“It has been a terrible morning,” Yoandy Izquierdo Toledo, an activist from the independent Convivencia Center, based in the province of Pinar del Río, told el Nuevo Herald.
“Communication is very difficult, landline and mobile phone services are interrupted”, he said in a WhatsApp messages he managed to send.
More than a million residents in the provinces of Pinar del Río and Artemisa have no electricity, Cuba’s state media outlet reported Tuesday morning.
“Desolation and destruction, we lived hours of terror; nothing is left here,” said the father of state journalist Lazaro Manuel Alonso who lives in Pinar del Río, according to Alonso’s post on Facebook.
Ian made landfall around 3:25 a.m. in the town of La Coloma, on the province’s southern coast, after its center passed near the Isle of Youth, Cuban state media reported. At 5 a.m. Ian’s center was just five miles south of the city of Pinar del Río, with sustained winds of 125 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The hurricane crossed over the province and by 11 a.m. it had emerged over the Gulf of Mexico, according to the Center’s advisory.
The National Hurricane Center also warned of “life-threatening storm surge” in western Cuba. Cuban authorities had ordered the evacuation of 50,000 people in Pinar del Río but relied mostly on residents taking shelter with relatives and friends.
Videos published on Facebook by Carmen Pino, a Cuban living in Tampa who told the Herald her family lives in La Coloma, show her father, 99-year-old Jesús María Pino Alemán, who suffers from cancer, sitting in a rocking chair in his living room with water up to his waist. In one of the videos, another relative is chest-deep in water.
“Where is the government that should help my people?” she asked on Facebook. “I hold the incompetent and failed Cuban government responsible for the lives of more than 6,000 residents in the small fishing village of La Coloma south of Pinar del Río, who have been abandoned to their luck.”
Images beginning to appear on state media show fallen trees and damaged buildings in Pinar del Río and Isle of Youth. There are reports of flooding in the Pinar del Rio towns of San Juan y Martínez and Puerto Esperanza, and damage to tobacco crops.
On Monday, several prominent Cubans and Cuban Americans signed a petition asking the heads of Meliá Hotels International, Iberostar, Kempinski, NH Hotel Group and other foreign hotel chains operating in Cuba to “make room for Cuban families, most of them with children, who will be left destitute and homeless as a result of Ian.”
Cuban activist Rosa María Payá, musician Paquito de Rivera, Modesto Maidique, former president of Florida International University, and the Reverend Jose Conrado of the Parish of Trinidad in Cuba, led the appeal.
The powerful storm comes at a difficult time for Cuba, engulfed in the worst economic crisis since the 1990s. Food and medicine shortages and electricity blackouts mark daily life, a situation made worst by a dengue epidemic.
This is a developing story. It will be updated.
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