January 28, 2019 8:04 am
Updated: January 28, 2019 2:24 pm

Rare tornado strikes in Havana, killing at least 3 and injuring more than 100

WATCH ABOVE: A rare tornado in Havana, Cuba on Sunday night left at least three people dead and more than 170 people injured

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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.

READ MORE: The science behind tornadoes

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 neighbourhood 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.

People walk past debris after a tornado ripped through a neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba January 28, 2019.

REUTERS/Fernando Medina

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 neighbourhood “like a fireball.” He saw a bus blown over, though he said the driver escaped unharmed.

WATCH: Havana residents clean up after freak tornado rips through city

Miguel Angel Hernandez of the Cuban Center for Meteorology said the tornado was a Category F3, with winds between 155 and 199 miles per hour, produced when a cold front hit Cuba’s northern coast.

Members of the Provincial Defence Council of Havana said 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.

People walk past debris after a tornado ripped through a neighbourhood in Havana, Cuba January 28, 2019.

REUTERS/Fernando Medina

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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.

The windows in the seven-story Daughters of Galicia Hospital in 10 de Octubre section were 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 metres) tall had crushed a pre-revolutionary American car.

WATCH: Here’s how a tornado forms.

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.

Maria 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 neighbourhoods of Regla and 10 de Octubre appeared to have suffered some of the worst damage.

READ MORE: Canadians survive Cuba bus crash that left 7 dead, several injured

State media said the city had been hit by winds in excess of 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 colours of red and green. “It was here for two-three seconds, nothing more. They were the most frightening seconds of my life.”

WATCH: Flooding in Cuba as Storm Alberto lashes Artemisa region (May 2018)

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.

READ MORE: 39 injured in Christmas Eve fireworks explosion in Cuba

“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 neighbours had been hospitalized.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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