A rare and powerful tornado that struck Havana killed three people and injured 174 others, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said early on Monday.
Diaz-Canel, who toured the darkened streets of Havana in the pre-dawn hours visiting emergency crews, wrote on Twitter that damage to the Cuban capital from tornado that struck late on Sunday was “severe”.
The tornado overturned vehicles, uprooted trees, knocked down lampposts, and left part of the city in the dark.
In the city’s Luyano neighbourhood, storm debris, including parts of a balcony ripped off an old building, blocked the streets, AFP photographers reported.
As emergency sirens blared across the city, firefighters and ambulances rushed about on rescue missions, their flashing lights giving light to blacked out areas.
“As of now we mourn the loss of three human lives and 174 injured people are receiving aid,” Diaz-Canel tweeted.
He added several emergency teams were working hard to restore power to blacked-out areas. Many Havana neighbourhoods were without power by 9pm on Sunday evening. The windows in one seven-story hospital were sucked out of their frames by the wind and all the patients had to be evacuated.
Photos posted by Cuban media and Havana residents on Twitter showed cars crushed by fallen lampposts and others trapped in floodwaters around the city. One local radio station said on Twitter that the Regla and 10th of October boroughs and the town of San Miguel de Padrón had been badly affected.
The tornado ripped metal sheeting off roofs and hurled the shards through the air. On Monday morning the streets were littered with bricks fallen from housing facades.
At the Hijas de Galicia maternity hospital staff were forced to evacuate the building because of storm damage.
The tornado, spawned by a powerful storm that originated in the Gulf of Mexico, hit western Cuba with winds of up to 100 kilometers per hour (60 MPH).
People described the tornado as having “the sound of a jet engine” and reported feeling changes in the environmental pressure when it arrived, Armando Caymares with the Institute of Meteorology said.
A government meteorologist says the tornado that struck Havana was an F3 on the Fujita Scale, which categorizes tornadoes based on the damage, with winds between 155 and 199 miles per hour. F-3 tornadoes can have winds between 158–206 MPH or 254–332 KM/H. Several countries, including the United States and Canada now use the Enhanced Fujita Scale, or EF Scale. This scale is still based on damage, but would categorize this tornado as an EF-4, with winds of 166–200 MPH or 267–322 KM/H.
Miguel Angel Hernandez of the Cuban Center for Meteorology says tornados are unusual around the capital and a strong one hadn’t hit the city in decades. He says 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.
Cuba’s state media had forecast high winds and thunderstorm conditions in the west of the country, caused by a cold front from the north and gusts from the south.
“Those of the island accustomed to these warnings did not suspect the magnitude of what was coming,” state-run newspaper Granma said.
Cuban officials say 125 homes were damaged by a tornado, heavy rains and severe winds overnight.
Members of the Provincial Defense Council of Havana tell state media Monday that 90 homes collapsed completely and 30 suffered partial collapse.
More than 200,000 people lost water service, largely because of power cuts that left pumps out of service. Some 100 underground cisterns close to the coastal section of Havana were contaminated by seawater.
Three electric substations were knocked out by the tornado, the strongest to hit Cuba since Dec. 26, 1940, when a Category F4 tornado hit the town of Bejucal, in what is now Mayabeque province.
Tornadoes and waterspouts are no stranger to the Caribbean, albeit a rare feat. In Trinidad and Tobago, we commonly see funnel clouds and waterspouts, predominantly across the Gulf of Paria and the Western coast of Trinidad.
Unfortunately, Trinidad and Tobago lacks the technology to issue advanced warnings for these localized and damaging events. However, you can still take steps to be tornado or waterspout safe.