Cuba blasted as Hurricane Irma tears through the Caribbean

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(CNN) Packing life-threatening winds, provoking massive storm surge and causing a host of rainfall dangers, Hurricane Irma slammed northern Cuba on Saturday, continuing to plod a path of devastation through the Caribbean en route to the US state of Florida.

A string of small Caribbean islands was left reeling by the massive hurricane, which strengthened to a Category 5 storm as it made landfall overnight in Cuba. It was downgraded late Saturday morning to Category 3 but was expected to regain power.

“Irma is forecast to restrengthen once it moves away from Cuba, and … to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida,” the US National Hurricane Center said Saturday morning.
At least 24 people were known to have died in the Caribbean as a result of Irma. Many islands were still assessing the damage, even as they prepared for the arrival of another major storm, Hurricane Jose.
St. Martin and St. Barthélemy, also known as St. Barts, remained under a hurricane warning for Jose, expected to blast north of the northern Leeward Islands on Saturday afternoon as a Category 4 hurricane. Barbuda and Anguilla appeared to be in less danger and were under a tropical storm warning.
Meanwhile, the center of Irma was about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east-southeast of Varadero, Cuba, late Saturday morning, packing sustained winds of 125 mph (215 kilometers per hour), the hurricane center said. Hurricane-force winds extended outward as far as 70 miles (110 km) from the center of the storm, with tropical storm-force winds extending as far as 195 miles (315 km) out.
Irma’s blinding rain and powerful winds began pummeling Caibarién, Cuba, late Friday as the outer bands of the massive storm made their entrance, knocking out power in a town that normally would be busy with tourists.
By dawn, the town’s main street had waves rolling down it, and within hours the whole town was flooded with several feet of water. Roofs could be seen flying off and trees were blown down as the wind gusted and roared. Officials reported a wind gust of 124 mph (200 km/h) around mid-morning Saturday.
Most people in the coastal area live in one-story homes, putting them at great risk as floodwaters rose to roof level in some places. Residents were overwhelmed by the damage and said recovery will take time, they told CNN.
Many people had left town over the past couple of days, with all foreigners urged to evacuate. Those who remained were prepared, though they knew this was a storm like few had ever experienced, they told CNN.
The Cuban government staged emergency supplies and building equipment ahead of the storm’s arrival, but it could some time before the extent of the damage is known.

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