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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.
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.