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Florida braces for Hurricane Irma as storm rips through Cuba

Florida braces for Hurricane Irma as storm rips through Cuba

REMEDIOS: Hurricane Irma pounded Cuba’s northern coast on Saturday and barrelled towards Florida as authorities scrambled to complete an unprecedented evacuation of millions of residents hours before the storm would engulf the state.

The outer band of Irma, which has killed at least 22 people in the Caribbean, was already lashing South Florida with tropical storm-force winds and left nearly 25,000 people without power, Governor Rick Scott said.

The brunt of the hurricane, one of the fiercest Atlantic storms in a century, is due to arrive in Florida early on Sunday.

Irma could inflict major damage on the fourth-largest US state by population, which is braced for winds well in excess of 100 miles per hour and a huge storm surge that could trigger coastal flooding.

“This is a deadly storm and our state has never seen anything like it,” Scott said at a Saturday morning news conference.

Irma, located about 225 miles south of Miami on Saturday morning, still ranked as a Category 5 storm when it crashed into Cuba in the early hours of Saturday. It weakened to a Category 3 as it tore along the island’s northern coastline, downing power lines, bending palm trees and sending huge waves crashing over sea walls.

Maximum sustained winds dipped to around 130 miles per hour by 8 am on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Centre (NHC) said.

But Irma will regain strength as it moves over the warm open water as it approaches Florida, according to the NHS, which expects the storm to arrive in the Keys, an archipelago off the peninsula’s southern tip, on Sunday morning.

On Florida’s West Coast, a long line of people in Estero, north of Naples, lined up to enter an arena that officials converted into an evacuation shelter, one of hundreds that have opened up across the state.

“We got the house all buttoned up,” said Montgomery Campbell, 82, as he stood in line.

Luise Campana Read was one of those who chose to ignore warnings and stay in her home. She said by phone she planned to ride out the storm in her beachfront condo in Fort Lauderdale, with her elderly mother and other family members.

“With a 97-year-old, there was no way I was going to have her sleep on a cot or a blow-up mattress” in a shelter, she said.

The destruction along Cuba’s north central coast was similar to that seen on other Caribbean islands over the last week as Irma ploughed into Ciego de Avila province around midnight.

State media said it was the first time the eye of a Category 5 storm had made landfall since 1932. In the days before Irma struck, the island’s Communist government evacuated tens of thousands of foreign tourists from resorts on the northern coast.

In Ciego de Avila province, Irma was forecast to generate waves of up to 7 metres (23 feet), with flooding expected as far west as the capital Havana, authorities said on Saturday.

Antonia Navarro, 56, a resident of the northern Cuban port town of Nuevitas in Camaguey, said a local ice cream factory was destroyed and glass windows at a hospital were blown out.

“We are praying to God and the Virgin of Charity that nothing grave happens to the people of Florida, and in particular Miami,” said Navarro, an officer worker. “We have to pray a lot for our relatives who live there."

Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2017

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