The world has been watching the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes ever formed in the Atlantic Ocean. The storm made its first landfall on the tiny island of Barbuda on September 6 at peak intensity, packing sustained winds of 185 miles per hour, and tore the island apart. It wreaked considerable damage on other islands as it moved northwest, striking St. Barthélemy, St. Martin and the British Virgin Islands, including Anguilla. At least 19 deaths have been reported from the storm so far.
Irma moved past the Dominican Republic yesterday, its large wind field impacting the cigar city of Santiago, but the eye of the Category 5 storm stayed well offshore, sparing the country severe damage.
"There was a lot of rain and strong winds, but no destruction," said Litto Gomez, who makes La Flor Dominicana cigars. Cigarmakers avoid planting in the fields during this part of hurricane season, when storm activity historically is at its peak. "The D.R. fared well," said Quesada Cigars owner Manuel Quesada, who has been making cigars in Santiago since the 1970s.
"Lots of rain but no big issues," said cigarmaker Ernesto Perez-Carrillo of EPC Cigar Co. "Now lets see how it treats Miami."
The storm, which had weakened slightly to a Category 4 cyclone, packing winds of 150 miles per hour, was spinning just off the coast of Cuba, where people were being evacuated from the coast. The storm is forecast to stay largely away from the prime tobacco growing area of the Vuelta Abajo, located in the far western region of Cuba in the province of Pinar del Río. CNN's Patrick Oppmann, who is stationed in Cuba, reported that officials were evacuating tourists and taking down road signs that might blow away.
Forecasters are predicting the storm will make landfall in southern Florida in the early morning hours of Sunday, where many people in the premium cigar industry not only have their headquarters but also reside.