An unusually strong cold front slammed Cuba’s north coast on Tuesday, with white-capped waves flooding streets with seawater, causing scattered power outages and littering the capital Havana with blowing trash and downed branches.
Gusts soared to 62 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour) in western parts of the island as squalls and strong winds advanced south from Florida, which saw similar conditions earlier this week.
Havana residents hunkered down overnight as lights flickered on and off but slowly emerged onto the streets Tuesday morning bundled in jackets and hats as temperatures plunged to as low as 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12 degrees Celsius), unusually chilly for Cuba.
At dawn, the water flowed through some city streets like coastal rivers, moving jellyfish, seaweed and flotsam several blocks landward.
“This really is something new … we’re not used to this kind of cold,” said Havana resident Jaqueline Dalardes as she strolled along the city’s Malecón esplanade. “The climate has changed.”
Havana, a coastal city built centuries ago on the Gulf of Mexico, is particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and strengthening storms brought on by human-caused climate change, scientists and city planners have said.
More than one-third of the 2.2 million inhabitants live in areas at risk from encroaching waters, according the UN Development Programme.
Rising sea levels threaten some coastal cities like Havana and could completely wipe from the map low-lying states in parts of the South Pacific Ocean.