Tornado hits Havana; Cuban president says 3 dead, 172 hurt

HAVANA (AP) — A tornado and pounding rains smashed into the eastern part of Cuba's capital overnight, toppling trees, bending power poles and flinging shards of metal roofing through the air as the storm cut a path of destruction across eastern Havana.

Power was cut to many areas and President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Monday at least three people were killed and 172 injured.

Julio Menendez, a 33-year-old restaurant worker said his neighborhood in Havana's 10 de Octubre municipality looked "like a horror movie."

"From one moment to the next, we heard a noise like an airplane falling out of the sky. The first thing I did was go hug my daughters," who are 9 and 12, he told The Associated Press.

Driver Oster Rodriguez said that amid a fierce storm, what looked like a thick, swirling cloud touched down in the central plaza of the Reparto Modelo neighborhood "like a fireball." He saw a bus blown over, though he said the driver escaped unharmed.

A government meteorologist said the tornado was a Category F3, with winds between 155 and 199 miles per hour.

Miguel Angel Hernandez of the Cuban Center for Meteorology said tornados are unusual around the capital and a strong one has not hit the city in decades. He said Sunday night's storm was produced when a cold front hit Cuba's northern coast, similar to one that struck in 1993, although without producing a tornado.

"It isn't usual for the city of Havana to be affected by a tornado of this magnitude," he said.

The windows in the seven-story Daughters of Galicia Hospital had been sucked out of their frames by the wind, leaving curtains flapping in the breeze, and all the patients, new and expectant mothers, had to be evacuated. In the streets, a palm tree more than 30 feet (9 meters) tall had crushed a pre-revolutionary American car.

Some of the heaviest damage from Sunday night's rare Havana tornado was in the eastern borough of Guanabacoa, where the apparent twister tore the roof off a shelter for dozens of homeless families.

Cubans enduring long waits for government housing often live in such multifamily shelters for years.

María Esther Linares, 54, was killed while hunting for safe shelter after the tornado broke the roof of the home where she was living with two granddaughters, said her grandson, Yoelkis Dip.

Dianabys Bueno, 31, was living in the shelter with her husband and son after they were forced to relocate by the collapse of their home in Central Havana. Much of the housing in Havana is in dire condition due to years without maintenance, and building collapses are routine even in ordinary storms.

"This has already happened to us once," Bueno said. "I'm not going anywhere."

Around Havana, cars were crushed by fallen light posts and vehicles were trapped in floodwaters. The neighborhoods of Regla and 10 de Octubre appeared to have suffered some of the worst damage.

State media said the city had been hit by winds in excess of 60 mph (100 kph).

Leanys Calvo, a restaurant cook in the 10th de Octubre borough, said she was working Sunday night despite heavy rain and wind when she heard a rumbling noise outside and looked out to see what appeared to be a tornado touching down.

"It was something that touched down, and then took off again. It was like a tower," she said, describing it as displaying colors of red and green. "It was here for two-three seconds, nothing more. They were the most frightening seconds of my life."

The tornado tore the concrete roof off an apartment building in the Regla section of Havana and dumped it into an alleyway, briefly trapping residents in their homes.

Marlene Marrero Garcia, 77, said she was in her ground-floor apartment with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren Sunday night when she heard electrical transformers begin to explode. Then the tornado passed.

"It looked like fire, everything was red, then everything began to fall," she said.

Marrero said she and her family were trapped by debris for about half an hour before firefighters arrived.

She and other residents said two of their neighbors had been hospitalized.

8 PHOTOS
Fighting the trash problem in Havana, Cuba
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Fighting the trash problem in Havana, Cuba
In this Oct. 22, 2018 photo, garbage containers are placed on a corner in the Centro Havana neighborhood in Havana, Cuba. As Havana prepares for next year's 500th anniversary of its founding, the Cuban government is struggling to pick up the trash. Rotting piles of garbage are accumulating on corners throughout the city as garbage trucks go unrepaired and workers abandoned the low-paid, unappealing work of collecting garbage. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
In this Oct. 22, 2018 photo, a man throws garbage into a container in Old Havana, Cuba. The root cause of Havana's garbage problem appears to be the cash crunch affecting Cuba's entire government, leaving infrastructure crumbling, suppliers unpaid and state-run businesses without the inputs needed to produce basic goods. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
In this Oct. 21, 2018 photo, garbage containers are placed on a corner in the Centro Havana neighborhood in Havana, Cuba. One of the most basic functions of city government, trash collection, has become a serious problem in one of Latin America's most spectacular cities, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of its founding next year. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
In this Oct. 20, 2018 photo, a woman walks by a pile of garbage in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. Havana residents do not use trash bags, which are difficult to find and even when available are hard to afford on a state salary of about $30 a month.(AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
In this Oct. 23, 2018 photo, workers clear garbage into a disposal truck in the Vedado neighborhood of Havana, Cuba. Officials say Havana has fewer than half of the 100 garbage trucks it needs to conduct daily trash pickups for the city's 2 million residents. Many of those trucks, mostly Chinese-made, regularly are out of service due to a lack of spare parts.(AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
ALAMAR, HAVANA, CUBA - 2016/07/30: Urban unhealthy condition of Improperly disposed litter waste on street. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
HAVANA CITY, HAVANA, CUBA - 2016/07/31: Unhygienic streets and lack of garbage disposal in Alamar. Alamar is a city in the East end of Havana. (Photo by Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty Images)
People sit on a beach amid empty beer cans and garbage near Havana, Cuba, Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016. Litter is a problem virtually everywhere in the world. But the trashing of Cuba’s world-class beaches by beachgoers themselves has become so extreme that tourists are complaining and Cubans bemoan it as a symptom of something amiss in a nation that’s long cherished cleanliness, order and mutual respect. (AP Photo/Desmond Boylan)
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