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Cubans are bracing for Hurricane Ian - after Cayman Islands dodged catastrophe

HurricaneIanSatelliteCuba.jpeg
NOAA
A U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellite image Monday morning shows Hurricane Ian moving north and straight for western Cuba as it strengthens into a major storm.

Hurricane Ian is forecast to slam western Cuba late Monday night or early Tuesday morning as a major, Category 3 storm — while Monday morning, the Cayman Islands avoided a catastrophic hit.

Over the weekend, it looked as if the Cayman Islands would be squarely in Ian’s path, but the storm’s track shifted westward. As it passed some 85 miles away from Grand Cayman Island early Monday morning, local media reported residents experienced only tropical storm winds, minor damage, scattered power outages — and a lot of relief.

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Jan Fidler, who runs the White Whale Pub on Grand Cayman Island, told WLRN by phone from George Town hours before Hurricane Ian moved by: “As of now it looks pretty OK — just a little plywood in the windows and an extra case of beer for two days. But, uh, unfortunately not for Cuba and you guys.”

By “you guys” Fidler meant Florida. But before Ian arrives here, the National Hurricane Center shows it becoming a powerful Category 3 storm when it hits western Cuba after midnight on Tuesday. The Cuban government said it shut down schools and other activities in the Pinar del Rio, Artemisa and Isla de la Juventud provinces on Monday and evacuated residents.

"Yes, we're making serious preparations," said Jaime Carrillo, who runs the Doña Tely paladar, or private restaurant, in the city of Pinar del Rio — very near where Ian is expected to make landfall in Cuba.

“The winds that are coming look as powerful as anything we’ve experienced here [in Pinar del Rio] in many years,” added Carrillo, who said he was shuttering his business on Monday to search for plywood and other scarce raw materials to brace for Ian.

Cuba is experiencing a sharp economic crisis that could make both prep and recovery more difficult for a major hurricane. After crossing Cuba, Ian is forecast to hit Florida’s upper Gulf coast later this week.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.