Hurricane Irma lingered along Cuba’s north coast Friday, swamping seaside towns and shredding the island’s rickety infrastructure, though there were no reports of deaths or injuries.
Cuban authorities said they had moved more than a million people out of Irma’s path, sending them to an extensive network of shelters that included dozens of caves.
After Irma made landfall late Friday as a Category 5 storm – the most powerful to strike the island in nearly a century – it began to slacken. By late afternoon, it was a Category 3 system, moving westward at a plodding pace of just 9 miles per hour, meting out destruction across a huge swath of the island.
Images published by Cuban state broadcasters and on social media showed downed trees and rubble-clogged streets. Some towns reported damage to 60 percent of homes, as the storm shredded zinc roofing panels and blasted apart old Spanish tiles.
Power lines and electrical posts were strewn across roads and highways, and state media reported the collapse of a causeway linking beach hotels to the mainland. At the Cayo Coco resort, near the site where Irma roared ashore, the top of a 200-foot communication tower was doubled over like a noodle.
Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center said Irma would begin turning northward late Saturday and smash into the Florida Keys Sunday morning.
That path would be a reprieve for Cuba’s capital, Havana, but police and Civil Defense officials have been evacuating the city’s waterfront neighborhoods that are most at risk of major flooding if Irma brought a significant storm surge.
In areas of the island where the worst has passed, Cubans have begun venturing out to inspect the damage.
“It’s a total disaster,” said Dianelys Alvarez, reached by cellphone in the central plaza of Nuevitas, Camaguey province, where Alvarez said not a single tree remained standing.
“The streets are full of rubble. There are houses with their roofs ripped off. Even the oldest trees in town have been knocked down,” she said.
The town has been without power for more than a day, but Alvarez said reports of damage elsewhere have been reaching her neighbors by word of mouth. She’s heard the destruction is even worse in the towns and beach resorts where Irma made landfall.Cuban state media reported waves exceeding 30 feet along some parts of the north coast, bringing extensive flooding.
Despite the property and infrastructure damage, Cuba appears to have been spared the lethal devastation Irma unleashed on the Leeward Islands to its east, especially on the island of Barbuda, which was all but obliterated. Those islands got a bit of good news Saturday afternoon as Hurricane Jose turned short of them, sparing the residents another devastating blow.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Nick Miroff