Hurricane Ian slammed into western Cuba on Tuesday, forcing evacuations, cutting power to nearly 1 million people and tearing roofs off homes as it tracked northward toward Florida, where residents anxiously await the sprawling storm, AP reports citing Reuters.
The Category 3 hurricane was nearing Cuba's north coast in Pinar del Rio Province by mid-morning Tuesday, with maximum sustained winds of 125 miles per hour (200 km per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Mayelin Suarez, a Pinar del Rio resident who sells ice cream in the provincial capital, was still shaken Tuesday morning after a night she called "the darkest of her life."
"We almost lost the roof off our house," Suarez told Reuters. "My daughter, my husband and I tied it down with a rope to keep it from flying away."
The hurricane hits Cuba at a time of dire economic crisis. Even before the storm, hours-long blackouts had become everyday events across much of Cuba and shortages of food, medicine and fuel are likely to complicate efforts to recover from Ian.
Ian is expected to strengthen further on Tuesday after cutting a swath through Cuba's farm country west of the capital Havana and emerging over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, reaching Category 4 strength before it approaches the west coast of Florida, the NHC said.
Hurricane Ian made landfall in Cuba's Pinar del Rio Province early on Tuesday, prompting officials to cut power to the entire province of 850,000 people as a precautionary measure and evacuate 40,000 people from low-lying coastal areas, according to local media reports.