Cuba’s legendary Pinar Del Rio province accounts for as much as 70% of the country’s entire tobacco crop. Some of the most well known and highly sought after cigars in the world are forged there. Hurricane Ian has completely altered the region’s landscape. Many barns, factories, stores, and homes were entirely flattened. Miraculously, no critical injuries or deaths have been reported. According to the National Hurricane Center, at the time of posting, the Category 3 storm has picked up strength and is already creating tropical storm conditions in parts of Florida. Current projections show that the storm could keep gaining power and make landfall as a Category 4 with winds as high as 130mph. (Update 9/28: Winds could go beyond 150mph and the storm is nearing Cat 5). Winds as high as 71mph are already being reported out of Key West International Airport. Looking at what the storm did to Cuba, it’s easy to understand why few are taking any chances:
The full impact that Ian has had on the island is only beginning to be understood, but already there are stories already coming out of the region that are as devastating as the destruction itself. Reuters had correspondents on the ground ahead of Ian’s landfall and were able to start gathering first-hand accounts as soon as it was safe to go outside and help. Abel Hernandez, a local tobacco farmer, shared that “sometimes hurricanes pass through here, but not of this magnitude. It destroyed our houses, our drying huts, our farms, the fruit trees, everything.” Another PDR local, 56-year-old Ana Julia Gomez, lived alone before the storm and said “I’ve never seen anything like this. I lost everything. Nothing is left.” Mayelin Suarez and her family had to tie down their roof to keep it from blowing completely away. The more time that passes, the more that stories just like these ones continue to emerge. For even greater context, AP news has a powerfully simple video breaking down each hurricane category:
Many wire services are currently reporting that Cuban authorities were able to successfully secure as much as 33,000 tons (66,000,000 pounds) of previously harvested tobacco, however none of them cite a source other than “State-run media” so it is difficult to confirm that number independently. The original plan was to evacuate 25,000 people, but the severity of the storm meant that upward of 50,000 were led to safety. Power was also cut to almost 1,000,000 people in an effort to mitigate any electrical/fire danger that could be cause by downed power lines. This ended up being a very prescient decision, as lines were knocked to the ground across the entire region. (Update 9/28: Cuba is entirely without power, the country’s grid has gone down. Blackouts were common even before the storm and already strained resources are now even more limited.)
At the same time as the people of Pinar Del Rio look to reassemble their lives, many Florida residents are being instructed to do everything they can to protect their own. It’s not a little deal, even to some Floridians who have weathered everything else that’s been thrown at them. A $39,000,000 infrastructure project began late last year would greatly reduce a hurricane’s impact on the area, but it’s years away from being done and the progress that has been made could be wiped out. Some of the industry’s biggest names call Florida home and have temporarily paused operations to allow all their employees to get to safety. The current warning spans a distance of 220 miles and right now conditions are getting bad enough that power outages will not be responded to until the morning so as not to endanger the workers. Forecasters are referring to Ian’s potential effects on Florida as being “catastrophic” and “historic” – so please be safe if you’re anywhere near the areas being impacted!
This is a developing situation that will be updated as more information becomes available.