Hurricane Irma has passed over Cuba, destroying homes and forcing thousands to evacuate, and is now heading towards Florida, US authorities warn.
Irma regained Category 5 status overnight, then dropped back to Category 4 early Saturday as thousands of people in the Caribbean fought desperately to find shelter or escape their storm-blasted islands and more than 6 million people in Florida and Georgia were warned to leave their homes. Wind speeds Saturday morning were about 130 mph, a slight decrease from wind speeds overnight.
As of 8 a.m., Irma was about 225 miles south of Miami, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The storm made landfall in Cuba’s Sabana-Camagüey archipelago, north of the eastern Camaguey province, CBS News’ Portia Siegelbaum reports. Puerto Padre, located along the northern coast of Ciego de Avila province and just west of Camaguey, lost electricity a short while ago as the town is taking a beating from the outer bands of Irma. Rain and wind brought down trees and street lights.
Cuba’s hurricane expert Jose Rubiera urged everyone to carefully monitor Irma, Siegelbaum reports. He warned that it’s an extremely powerful, extremely large storm and said that when Irma finally turns north, strong tropical storm wind and rain will slam the capital Havana and the neighboring western provinces of Mayabeque and Pinar del Rio.
The National Hurricane Center on Friday warned that Irma, which then had maximum sustained winds of 155 mph, is “extremely dangerous,” strong enough to pull out trees, bring down power poles and rip off the roofs and some exterior walls of well-built frame homes.
“Obviously Hurricane Irma continues to be a threat that is going to devastate the United States,” Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), said at a press conference Friday morning. “We’re going to have a couple rough days.”
Rainfall accumulations in southeast Florida and the Florida Keys are expected to reach 10 to 15 inches, with totals up to 20 inches locally. Eastern Florida up the coast to Georgia is expected to receive 8 to 12 inches, according to the National Hurricane Center.