After killing more than 20 people across the Caribbean this week, Hurricane Irma ravaged Cuba’s northern coast Friday night and Saturday morning – and may hammer Havana before it moves into the Florida Straits headed for the Keys on Sunday.
“The television pictures we’re seeing from the middle coast are very bad,” Havana resident Carlos Caridad told WLRN Saturday afternoon. “Housing and building construction out there is not as good as it is here, and we’re seeing a lot of wrecked houses in places like Camagüey [province].”
Granma, the Cuban government’s official publication, said Irma hit the island’s eastern tip late Friday night with winds at almost 160 mph – the first Category 5 storm to hit Cuba in 93 years. Granma said it tore up the Camagüey Archipelago and the eastern province of Las Tunas, as well as the resort city of Caibarién further west, where houses were reported flooded. (No Irma casualty figures were yet available from Cuba Saturday afternoon.)
“They’re telling us to brace for bad winds here [in Havana] now, even as far west as Pinar del Río” Caridad said.
Irma actually made more substantive contact with Cuba than forecasters had earlier predicted. That did have the effect, however, of weakening the hurricane from Cat 5 to Cat 3 (winds of 110 to 130 mph). The question now is whether that impact compromised the storm’s eye sufficiently enough to keep it from rebuilding to Category 4 or worse as it heads back over the warm and open water of the Florida Straits bound for the Florida Keys, including Key West.
After hitting the Keys, Irma is forecast to turn northward up Florida’s west coast.