The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Cuba suffers total electrical outage as Hurricane Ian roars through

Havana sits in darkness early Wednesday after Hurricane Ian knocked out power to Cuba. (Ismael Francisco/AP)

Work crews began restoring electricity to Cuba early Wednesday after Hurricane Ian knocked the entire island offline, but authorities warned that the process would be slow.

Brigades from the Electrical Union of Cuba worked through the night after the hurricane crossed western Cuba Tuesday before heading north toward Florida. At least two people on the island died in the massive storm, authorities said. Buildings and infrastructure in the western province of Pinar del Río, where Ian made landfall early in the day, suffered major damage.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the region experienced “significant wind and storm surge impacts.”

Ian forecast: Category 4 landfall expected along Florida’s west coast Wednesday

Authorities initially reported 1 million people without power. Later Tuesday, they said the entire island of 11 million was out.

“The SEN has an exceptional condition, 0 electricity generation (the country without electrical service), associated with the complex weather system,” the Ministry of Energy and Mines tweeted at 8:42 p.m., using the Spanish acronym for the national power grid.

The Electrical Union of Cuba said the west of the island had suffered more damage, while power would gradually return in the east.

“In the western zone, the process is complex because when Ian passed, an important part of the transmission network was damaged, which makes the restoration process more difficult,” it added. The power company said its goal was to restore power in the grid’s three sections so as to connect them back to the national electric system.

“It’s a process that is going to take a while,” union chief Lázaro Guerra Hernández told state television earlier.

Yamilé Ramos Cordero, president of the Provincial Defense Council of Pinar del Río, confirmed at least two deaths from collapsing buildings. A woman in the municipality of San Luis was killed when a wall fell in her home, he said. A man in a different municipality died when a roof collapsed.

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel visited the stricken region after the storm passed. “The damages are great, although they have not yet been accounted,” he tweeted. “Aid is already pouring in from all over the country.”

Eleazar Moreno Ricardo, the electrical union’s network director, told the Communist Party newspaper Granma that brigades from throughout the island moved to the western provinces to begin restoring power as soon as the weather permitted.

“The work of evaluating the damage has already begun, and in some areas of the Isla de la Juventud, the first territory to feel the force of the hurricane, it has already been possible to reestablish electrical service,” Granma reported shortly after 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Isla de la Juventud — the Island of Youth — lies some 30 miles off the Cuban mainland.

“The most complex situation is in Pinar del Río, where all transmission networks are out of service, and there is much damage to transformers and secondary networks,” Granma reported.

CNN Havana bureau chief Patrick Oppmann tweeted a video of himself driving down the Malecón, Havana’s storied waterfront esplanade, now flooded. Some lights were visible in the distance.

Before Ian made landfall, officials in Pinar del Río set up 55 shelters, evacuated 50,000 people, and took steps to protect crops in the nation’s main tobacco-growing region.

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Cuba has long experience preparing for hurricanes, but it’s also suffering food and electricity shortages. The economy has been hobbled in part by the lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic and in part by U.S. sanctions imposed by the Trump administration and partially maintained by the Biden administration.

Ellen Francis contributed to this report.