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After Ian's wrath, Cuba grapples with cleanup efforts and power restoration

"It's been intense," said a 72-year-old resident of Artemisa, who said it was the worst hurricane he's ever experienced.
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PINAR DEL RÍO, Cuba — Brigades of electrical workers were focused Wednesday on restoring electricity to the western region of Cuba, where Hurricane Ian made landfall the day before, leaving the entire country without power.

The hurricane prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of people, many of whom huddled in shelters as winds of up to 129 mph ripped trees from their roots and knocked transformers off power lines, damaging the country’s already vulnerable power grid.

At least two hurricane-related deaths had been reported as of Wednesday. One woman died after a wall fell on her, and another was killed by a collapsed roof.

Two large power plants, Felton and Nuevitas, were reactivated and by Wednesday morning, parts of Havana, Cienfuegos, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and some customers in eight other cities had their electricity restored, according to the Electric Union of Cuba at the Ministry of Energy and Mines.

Crews were working to bring power back to the Pinar del Río Province, where the eye of the then-Category 3 storm entered Cuba, and the municipality of Artemisa, where Ian's gusty winds knocked power out.

"It's been intense," said Humberto, 72, a resident of Guanajay, a town in Artemisa, speaking in Spanish to NBC News. He said he considers Ian to be the worst hurricane he's ever experienced, describing having to move his bed away from the window as rainwater seeped into his room.

Without electricity and using an oil lamp and candles, he was trying not to open the refrigerator too much to avoid food spoilage. He had enough food, he said, to last him three days.

On Wednesday, residents of Artemisa and other ravaged towns were cleaning up the debris, emerging from their homes after enduring Ian's wrath for nearly seven hours.

Cuba's civil defense, the agency in charge of responding to emergencies, told NBC News citizens had been coming out to help officials remove debris from the streets.

In Pinar del Río, a region known for its agriculture and a source of produce for much of Cuba, crops such as rice, yucca and beans were lost. While officials are still assessing damages, they expect big losses.

The region is also know for growing tobacco used for Cuban cigars. Finca Robaina, one of the most prestigious tobacco farms in Cuba, experienced great devastation, according to its owner.

"It was apocalyptic, a real disaster," Hirochi Robaina wrote in a Facebook post alongside images of the damages.

Image: Hurricane Ian Cuba
A car passes through a flooded street in Havana on Wednesday. Yamil Lage / AFP - Getty Images

Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel said damages in Pinar del Río "are great, although it has not yet been possible to account for it."

Díaz-Canel has received phone calls from Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador "concerned about the situation in the country after #HurricaneIan and ready to help," he tweeted.

Hurricane winds bent countless pieces of metals used as roofs all over Cuba, particularly in Pinar del Río. Residents there said that many of those crumbled up pieces of metal will likely be bent back into place and reused as roofs, because of the limited availability of supplies in the country.

As Cuban officials continue to assess the damages of Hurricane Ian, Humberto leaned into a large baby Jesus figure in his apartment, saying he is the one "who protects us."

Guad Venegas reported from Cuba and Nicole Acevedo from New York, with additional reporting in Cuba by Orlando Matos and Roberto León.

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