Hurricane Irma hits Cuba with strong winds and heavy rain

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International desk, September 9: Hurricane Irma is lashing Cuba with strong winds and heavy rain after devastating several Caribbean islands.The hurricane made landfall on the Camaguey Archipelago, in Cuba’s north-east, as a category five storm.

But the Bahamas have largely been spared after Irma changed track.

In Florida, 5.6 million people, or 25% of the US state’s population, have been told to leave as the storm approaches. At least 20 people are known to have died so far across the Caribbean.

Irma hit the Sabana-Camaguey Archipelago late on Friday, threatening nearby coastal towns and villages.

It was the first category five hurricane to hit Cuba in decades. It weakened to category four by Saturday morning but is expected to strengthen again as it approaches Florida.

At 12:00 GMT, Irma had maximum sustained winds of 209km/h (130mph), the National Hurricane Center in the US said.

It has brought vast amounts of rainfall to parts of Cuba, with extensive flooding reported in the fishing village of Caibarien.

Power lines have been brought down in several parts of the central province of Camaguey, and communication is becoming increasingly difficult with towns in more remote areas, the BBC’s Will Grant in Havana reports.

Thousands of people have been evacuated but many others stayed to ride out the storm.

Cuban officials reported “significant damage”, without giving further details, but said there were no confirmed casualties yet, AFP news agency reported.

Earlier, people tried to secure their roofs and move belongings from low-lying coastal areas to higher ground.

“There are really strong gusts of wind. It is pouring off and on, and the lights are out,” Anaida Gonzalez, a retired nurse in the Camaguey province, told Reuters.

About 50,000 tourists are fleeing or have fled Cuba, with resorts on the north coast now empty, the news agency reports.

Source: Agencies