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Irma pounds Cuba, heads for Florida
September 10, 2017
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REMEDIOS: Hurricane Irma pounded Cuba’s northern coast on Saturday as it headed for Florida, where millions of residents were told to evacuate after the storm killed 22 people in the Caribbean and left devastation in its wake.

Still a Category 5 storm when it crashed into Cuba in the early hours of Saturday, Irma weakened slightly 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 dropped to around 215kph by 8am (1200 GMT) on Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said, ranking it a dangerous Category 4 storm, the second-highest level.

However, the NHC said Irma would regain strength as it moved away from Cuba and was expected to remain a powerful hurricane as it approaches Florida, arriving in the Keys on Sunday morning.

One of the fiercest Atlantic storms in a century, Irma is expected to cause major damage due to high winds and flooding to the fourth-largest US state by population.

The destruction along Cuba’s north central coast was similar to that seen on other Caribbean islands over the last week as Irma plowed 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 to7m, with flooding expected as far west as the capital Havana, authorities said on Saturday.

Storm Katia weakened to a tropical depression on Saturday as it moved into the interior of Mexico, but it could still dump heavy rains on areas that have absorbed large amounts of precipitation and been shaken by a massive earthquake in recent days.

The NHC said that as a depression, Katia was blowing maximum sustained winds of nearly 56kph and should dissipate over the mountains of central eastern Mexico later on Saturday.

Mexico is dealing with the aftermath of a huge quake that struck on Thursday night, and President Enrique Pena Nieto said on Friday that Katia could be especially dangerous in hillsides rocked by the magnitude 8.1 tremor.

Katia, which brought rain to the state of Veracruz when hitting the coast late on Friday, was about 185km west northwest of the Gulf Coast port of Veracruz early on Saturday morning, the NHC said.

Officials in Veracruz say Katia could cause landslides and flooding. They urged people living below hills and slopes to be ready to evacuate.

With the storm barrelling towards the United States, officials in Florida ordered an unprecedented evacuation, racing to overcome clogged highways, gasoline shortages and move elderly residents to safety.

With the storm still 365km south of Miami on Saturday morning, winds and high rains were lashing Florida’s largest city.

“We are running out of time. If you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now. This is a catastrophic storm like our state has never seen,” Governor Rick Scott told reporters.

A total of 5.6 million people, or 25 per cent of the state’s population, were ordered to evacuate Florida, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

President Donald Trump said in a videotaped statement that Irma was “a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential” and called on people to heed recommendations from government officials and law enforcement.

About 9 million people in Florida may lose power, some for weeks, said Florida Power & Light Co, which serves almost half of the state’s 20.6 million residents.

Residents of the islands faced the threat of another major storm, Hurricane Jose.

Reuters

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