According to Reuters witnesses and government sources, power was slowly being restored to the Cuban capital of Havana on Thursday morning, but large portions of the Caribbean island nation were still without electricity due to damage caused by Hurricane Ian. Following the storm’s impact on Thursday, high-tension lines were knocked down, homes were leveled, and agricultural fields were destroyed, leaving much of the island’s population of 11 million without electricity for the third day running.
State-run media in Cuba reported at least three deaths due to the hurricane. State power generator officials reported progress, but cautioned that they were only at the beginning of a “difficult” recovery. Director of Cuba’s National Electric Union Pavel Angulo remarked on a state-run TV show late on Wednesday, “In the management of an electrical system, one of the most complex operations is restoring power from zero.”
Cuba’s grid is dependent on old, Soviet-era oil-fired power plants that regularly break down, making repairs even more difficult. Due to the rising price of gasoline caused by the crisis in Ukraine and the severe sanctions imposed by the United States, the government has also had trouble supplying those plants. Several of its power facilities, according to Angulo, have been restarted, and the company is working to reconnect to the national grid.
Once the initial “plants” are added, the remainder of the units will be added to the system at a much faster rate, according to Angulo. At midday on Thursday, state-run media claimed that a portion of Havana had been reconnected to the grid, but that several circuits and lines were still damaged, slowing efforts in other places. On Thursday, people all across Central Havana sat at doors to breathe some fresh air after spending the night inside their stifling apartments.
Nerves were on edge due to the hot, muggy weather, the swarms of insects, and the risk of mosquito-borne Dengue fever. Carlos Herrera, a 49-year-old state employee, stated, “If this lasted for much longer, it would have been very dangerous.” “Thank goodness, they appear to be making progress. Light meant gas stations could reopen, and once they did, enormous lineups formed at the few working pumps.
Most people outside of Havana were not as fortunate. Crews worked to clear roads, remove trees, and replace downed power lines west of the capital, where lights were still out. Pinar del Rio, which received a direct hit from the hurricane, was shown in debris and wreckage via helicopter footage on state-run television, with roofs strewn about farm fields and backyards and flooded tobacco fields.
According to state-controlled media, as much as 85% of residences in several villages and small cities around the region have sustained major devastation. The tobacco industry, one of Cuba’s few profitable export businesses, was struck particularly hard by Ian. Industry officials reported that the storm had destroyed nearly all of the tobacco drying houses in some places, soaking their raw material.
The Pinar del Rio area had no official estimates for when power will be restored. Cubans were already used to regular power outages, sometimes lasting eight hours or more, before Hurricane Ian hit, but the possibility of a lengthy blackout would be devastating in a country where basic necessities like food, fuel, and medicine are already in limited supply due to the ongoing crisis. Even if power were restored quickly, the officials added, the country’s energy condition, which led to major shortages in the generation prior to the storm, would not improve.
After leaving Cuba on Tuesday, Hurricane Ian strengthened into one of the most powerful to strike the U.S. mainland in recent years, causing widespread flooding and knocking out power to over 2 million customers along Florida’s Gulf Coast.