World

Havana hit by rare tornado, at least 3 dead

A rare tornado ripped through a number of working-class districts of Havana late Sunday night, leaving at least three dead and scores injured, state-run media and Cuba's president said.

1st twister to hit Cuban capital in decades leaves behind flooded and rubble-strewn streets

A rare and powerful tornado that struck Havana killed three people and left 172 injured, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said early on Monday. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images)

A rare tornado ripped through a number of working-class districts of Havana late Sunday night, leaving at least three dead and scores injured, state-run media and Cuba's president said.

This was the first twister to hit the Cuban capital in decades and was described by the daily of the ruling Communist Party as an "extraordinary" event.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted that three people had been killed and more than 170 injured as he toured one of the hardest-hit districts, confirming photos and videos of the damage posted on social media.

"We are touring areas affected by the atmospheric phenomenon of great intensity. The damage is severe and up to now, we regret the loss of three lives and we are attending to 172 injured," Diaz-Canel said.

Vehicles turned upside down

State-run media had warned residents in western Cuba that an approaching cold front from the north and winds from the south would create high winds, thunderstorms and heavy rainfall in the area.

"Those of the island accustomed to these warnings did not suspect the magnitude of what was coming," the Communist Party daily Granma said.

Pictures of destroyed housing, cars and small trucks turned upside down, flooded and rubble-strewn streets were posted on Twitter under the hash tag #Havana #tornado, along with a shot of the huge twister touching down in the city.

The reports of deaths and injuries were preliminary as rescue workers combed through damaged buildings in the blacked-out neighbourhoods where much of the housing is dilapidated.

'A horror movie'

Julio Menendez, a 33-year-old restaurant worker, said Havana's 10th of October borough "looks 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 nine and 12, he said.

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.

Cuban firefighters assist the evacuation of a mother and her baby in the tornado-hit Luyano neighbourhood in Havana early Monday. (Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images)

The windows in the seven-storey 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 from the building. In the streets, a palm tree more than nine metres tall had crushed a pre-revolutionary American car.

Leanys Calvo, a restaurant cook in the10th of October 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."

With files from The Associated Press