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Some lights back on in Cuba; tobacco crop hit

by Compiled by Democrat-Gazette staff from wire reports | September 29, 2022 at 4:05 a.m.
Residents cut away tree branches felled by Hurricane Ian Wednesday in Havana, Cuba. Cuba remained in the dark early Wednesday after Ian knocked out its power grid and devastated some of the country’s most important tobacco farms when it hit the island’s western tip as a major storm. (AP/Ismael Francisco)

HAVANA -- Cuban officials said they had begun to restore some power Wednesday after Hurricane Ian knocked out electricity to the entire island while devastating some of the country's most important tobacco farms when it hit the island's western tip as a major storm.

At least two people were reported killed.

The Energy and Mines Ministry announced it had restored energy to three regions by activating two large power plants in Felton and Nuevitas and was working to get others back on line.

Lights started to flicker on in the capital, Havana, but much of the city and other parts of western Cuba remained without power Wednesday in the wake of the major hurricane. It was the first time in memory -- perhaps ever -- that the whole island had lost power.

On Tuesday, Ian hit a Cuba that has been struggling with an economic crisis and has faced frequent power failures in recent months. It made landfall as a Category 3 storm on the island's western end, devastating Pinar del Rio 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 Ian, which caused flooding, damaged houses and toppled trees. State media reported two deaths in the province: a woman killed by a falling wall and another by a collapsed roof.

Ian's winds damaged one of Cuba's most prestigious tobacco farms, Finca Robaina.

"It was apocalyptic, a real disaster," said Hirochi Robaina, owner of the farm that bears his name and that his grandfather made known internationally.

Robaina posted photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited the region, telling the population, "Although the first impact is very painful, there's nothing to do but overcome the adversity."

"Being in the hurricane was terrible for me, but we are here alive," said Pinar del Rio resident Yusimi Palacios, who asked authorities for a roof and a mattress.

Officials had set up 55 shelters and took steps to protect crops, especially tobacco.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Cuba suffered "significant wind and storm surge impacts" when the hurricane struck with top sustained winds of 125 mph.

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.

Videos on social media showed downed power lines and cut-off roads in the provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque. A hospital in Pinar del Rio was damaged.

"The town is flooded," said farmer Andy Munoz, 37, who lives in Playa Cajio in Artemisa.

He said many people lost their belongings to the storm surge.

"I spent the hurricane at home with my husband and the dog. The masonry and zinc roof of the house had just been installed. But the storm tore it down," said Mercedes Valdes, who lives along the highway connecting Pinar del Rio to San Juan y Martinez. "We couldn't rescue our things ... we just ran out."

HURRICANE FIONA AFTERMATH

A federal judge Wednesday ordered a fresh round of mediation talks aimed at restructuring more than $8 billion in debt held by Puerto Rico's power company as it struggles to recover from recent Hurricane Fiona.

In addition, U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain allowed a federal control board that oversees the island's finances to go to court to determine how much money bondholders should receive as they seek to recover their investments.

The board warned earlier that any expenses linked to debt repayment would be passed along to the power company's 1.47 million clients.

The board also was ordered to file a debt-restructuring plan for the island's Electric Power Authority by Dec. 1, with a confirmation hearing scheduled for mid-2023.

The board praised the ruling, saying it is calculated to get major legal issues resolved as quickly as possible: "Simultaneous litigation and mediation facilitates resolutions for all constituencies."

The ruling comes as more than 311,000 customers remain without power more than 10 days after Fiona slammed into Puerto Rico's southwest tip as a Category 1 storm, sparking an island-wide blackout. Several hospitals also remain connected to generators.

"It is totally unacceptable," said Manuel Calderon Cerame, spokesman for the main opposition Popular Democratic Party.

Fuel disruptions have forced grocery stores, gas stations and other businesses to temporarily close as the demand for diesel to feed generators grows. Hundreds of schools also remain shuttered.

Government officials have vowed to try to restore power to 91% of clients by Friday as they push to restructure the power company's debt.

Information for this article was contributed by Andrea Rodriguez, Osvaldo Angulo and Danica Coto of The Associated Press.

  photo  People stand along a waterfront as huge waves crash against a seawall in the wake of Hurricane Ian in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Cuba remained in the dark early Wednesday after Ian knocked out its power grid and devastated some of the country's most important tobacco farms when it hit the island's western tip as a major storm. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Residents watch as a person chops on a tree that fell on top of a boat due to Hurricane Ian in Havana, Cuba, Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2022. Cuba remained in the dark early Wednesday after Ian knocked out its power grid and devastated some of the country's most important tobacco farms when it hit the island's western tip as a major storm. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Mercedes Valdez holds her dog Kira as she waits for transportation after losing her home to Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  A man walks on the road to Playa Cajio, which has been cut off by the storm surge of Hurricane Ian, in Artemisa, Cuba, Tuesday, September 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba's Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation's main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ismael Francisco)
 
 
  photo  Men lead their ox cart past a tobacco warehouse smashed by Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba as a major hurricane and left 1 million people without electricity, then churned on a collision course with Florida over warm Gulf waters amid expectations it would strengthen into a catastrophic Category 4 storm. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Passenger try to reschedule their flights after many were cancelled or delayed due to Hurricane Ian, at Tocumen International Airport in Panama City, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Hurricane Ian tore into western Cuba as a major hurricane and left 1 million people without electricity, then churned on a collision course with Florida over warm Gulf waters amid expectations it would strengthen into a catastrophic Category 4 storm. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
 
 
  photo  Fallen electricity lines, metal and tree branches litter a street after Hurricane Ian hit Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation’s main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  Maria Llonch retrieves her belongings from her home damaged by Hurricane Ian in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 
  photo  A man carries two children in the rain in search of shelter after Hurricane Ian flooded their home in Pinar del Rio, Cuba, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022. Ian made landfall at 4:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio province, where officials set up shelters, evacuated people, rushed in emergency personnel and took steps to protect crops in the nation’s main tobacco-growing region. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
 
 

Print Headline: Some lights back on in Cuba; tobacco crop hit

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