Hurricane leaves trail of destruction from Cuba to Florida

FLORIDA. – Hurricane Ian has swept up homes and displaced tens of thousands in a path of destruction from Cuba to Florida.

The storm made landfall in Cuba’s Pinar del Rio early on Tuesday, where 50 000 were forced to flee, and electricity was knocked out to the entire island of 11 million.

At least two people have died — a woman was killed by a falling wall, and a man whose roof collapsed on him.

No deaths were reported in the United States as of Wednesday, but a boat carrying Cuban migrants sank on Wednesday off Key West.

The US Coast Guard initiated a search and rescue mission for 23 people after a migrant boat from Cuba capsized.

Three survivors were found 3km south of the Florida Keys, officials said.

Four other Cubans swam to Stock Island while air crews continued to search for possibly 20 remaining migrants.

“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 Valdés, who lives along the highway connecting Pinar del Rio to San Juan Martínez.

“We couldn’t rescue our things … we just ran out.”

Finca Robaina, one of Cuba’s most prestigious tobacco farms, was lashed with wind, with photos on social media of wood-and-thatch roofs smashed to the ground, greenhouses in rubble and wagons overturned.

“Although the first impact is very painful, there’s nothing to do but overcome the adversity,” President Miguel Díaz-Canel said.

The storm had worked up to category four by the time it arrived on Florida’s Gulf Coast on Wednesday (local time), with winds reaching 250 kph — just shy of the highest category.

It is the fifth-most-powerful storm in recent years to have pummelled Florida’s Gulf Coast, trapping people who had defied orders to seek higher ground, and knocking out power for more than a million residents.

Earlier this week, more than 2,5 million residents were told to leave.

Desperate people posted to Facebook and other social sites, pleading for rescue for themselves or loved ones.

Some video showed debris-covered water sloshing toward the eaves of homes.

Hurricane Ian dropped to a category one storm hours after landfall.

However, the sprawling, slow-moving hurricane continues to unleash drenching rains as it moves inland, threatening to trigger extensive additional flooding.

Forecasters predict it will carry on as a tropical storm through Virginia, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, where governors have declared pre-emptive states of emergency.

Thousands of flights have been cancelled, almost 2 000 were dropped yesterday alone. –

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