Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful hurricanes to hover over the Caribbean in a century, has been downgraded to a Category 4 storm as it ravages Cuba's northern coast.
The eye of the storm is hitting Havana, where surges are expected to push waters between 200 and 500 meters inland, with waves up to five meters high through Sunday in western regions of the country.
So far, it has killed 21 people across the Caribbean and has left widespread devastation throughout the region. With the storm's trajectory now directed towards Florida, millions of residents of the U.S. state have been ordered to evacuate.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center, NHC, reported that Irma panned over Cuba's Camaguey archipelago with 155 mph winds and came in for a direct hit above Ciego de Avila province at approximately midnight. The destruction left in its wake was similar to that experienced on other eastern Caribbean islands, according to CNBC.
Meteorologists reported that the storm should make a slight curve through the Cuban provinces of Sancti Spiritus and Villa Clara before making its way to Florida.
“We are running out of time,” Florida Governor Rick Scott said during a press conference.
“If you are in an evacuation zone, you need to go now. This is a catastrophic storm like our state has never seen.”
Some 5.6 million people, roughly 25 percent of Florida’s population, have been ordered to evacuate, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management.
Irma is the first storm of its kind to make landfall in Cuba in decades. Cuba, however, has made thorough preparations and the island nation has come to a near standstill as Irma started to drive up the northern coast from east to west.
The storm has left behind significant damage to the region, but a precise assessment will not be able to be carried out until Sunday, according to the Camaguey official Isabel Gonzalez Cardenas.
Officials have not reported any casualties due to the early evacuations ordered for both local coastal residents and tourists.