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Irma rolls through Cuba, then hits Florida Keys

Residents float down a flooded street in Havana atop a large piece of Styrofoam after the city was hit by Hurricane Irma on Sunday. The storm ripped roofs off houses and toppled buildings.
Residents float down a flooded street in Havana atop a large piece of Styrofoam after the city was hit by Hurricane Irma on Sunday. The storm ripped roofs off houses and toppled buildings.
Published Sep. 11, 2017

MIAMI — Hurricane Irma gave Florida a coast-to-coast pummeling Sunday, swamping homes and boats, and knocking out power to millions.

The storm arrived in the Florida Keys as a Category 4 storm, its winds extending clear across to Miami on the Atlantic side.

In the low-lying Keys, appliances and furniture were seen floating away, and Monroe County spokeswoman Cammy Clark said the ocean waters were filled with navigation hazards, including sunken boats and loose vessels. But the full extent of Irma's wrath there was not clear.

Nearly 7 million people in the Southeast were warned to evacuate, including 6.4 million in Florida alone.

About 30,000 people heeded orders to leave the Keys as the storm closed in, but an untold number refused, in part because to many storm-hardened residents, staying behind in the face of danger is a point of pride.

John Huston, who stayed in his Key Largo home, watched his yard flood even before the arrival of high tide.

"Small boats floating down the street next to furniture and refrigerators. Very noisy," he said by text message. "Shingles are coming off."

Irma made landfall just after 9 a.m. at Cudjoe Key, about 20 miles outside Key West.

During the afternoon, it rounded Florida's southwestern corner and hugged the coast closely as it pushed toward Naples, Sanibel, Fort Myers and, beyond that, Sarasota, at 14 mph.

Meteorologist Ryan Maue of WeatherBell Analytics said the entire Florida peninsula would be raked by Irma's right front quadrant — the part of a hurricane that usually brings the strongest winds, storm surge, rain and tornadoes.

Irma in Cuba: Florida wasn't the only place dealing with the effects of Hurricane Irma on Sunday.

Powerful waves and storm surge from Hurricane Irma topped Havana's iconic Malecon seawall and left thousands of homes, businesses and hotels swamped Sunday, even as the storm moved away from the island.

There were no immediate reports of fatalities in Cuba, where the government prides itself on disaster preparedness and said it had evacuated more than 1 million people.

Authorities warned that the floodwaters could linger for more than a day, and there was as-yet uncalculated damage to sugarcane and banana fields in central Cuba and to northern cays studded with all-inclusive resorts, potentially dealing a major blow to the country's key tourism industry.

The storm ripped roofs off homes, collapsed buildings and caused floods along hundreds of miles of coast after cutting a trail of destruction across the Caribbean. Irma has killed at least 24 people in the region, leaving officials scrambling to bring aid to shattered communities.

In Havana, home to some 2 million residents, central neighborhoods along the coast between the Almendares River and Havana harbor suffered the brunt of the flooding, with seawater penetrating as much as a half-kilometer (one-third of a mile) inland in places.

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Waves as high as 20 feet pounded Havana, with the spray topping the lighthouse at the Morro fortress on the entrance to the bay, and Civil Defense Col. Luis Angel Macareno warned that the flooding would persist into today.

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