This car was crushed by debris from a tornado-struck building in Havana's hard-hit Luyano neighborhood (Photo: AFP)
A rare and powerful tornado has devastated sections of Havana, overturning cars, uprooting trees and leaving homes in shambles. Three people were killed and 172 injured, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Monday.
A shaken resident, recalling a night of terror, said she clutched her daughter and crouched down in her kitchen as the tornado came roaring in Sunday night.
"It was as if rocks were falling -- it was hail -- and I felt things beginning to fall. It lifted my entire roof, and took everything away," Canaima Hernandez, 36, said, sobbing.
Hernandez's Havana neighborhood, Regla, was one of the hardest hit by the tornado, which state media said was comparable in strength to the most powerful hurricanes.
Residents picked their way through overturned vehicles, collapsed walls, overturned lampposts, and uprooted trees on Monday morning.
Diaz-Canel, who toured the city's darkened streets visiting emergency crews, wrote on Twitter that damage was "severe."
In the city's Luyano neighborhood 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 172 injured people are receiving aid," Diaz-Canel tweeted.
He added that several emergency teams were working hard to restore power to blacked-out areas.
At the Hijas de Galicia maternity hospital staff were forced to evacuate the building due to 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 (60 miles) per hour.
"Islanders are used to these warnings, but they did not suspect the magnitude of what was approaching," said Granma, the Communist Party daily.
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.
The tornado "caught me in the street, in the car with my wife and children," actor Luis "Panfilo" Silva wrote on his social media account.
"I had to dodge fallen trees, flooded areas and strong winds until I managed to get home. We experienced great fear," he wrote.
Francisco Sotolongo said it was a good thing the tornado's impact only lasted seconds. "Because if it lasted a minute there would be nothing left here."
High winds sent sea water surging over the city's famed Malecon esplanade and several meters into the city. The western provinces of Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Mayabeque also were affected by the storm.