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Hurricane Irma batters Cuba on way to Florida

By AFP | Published Sun, September 10th 2017 at 12:29, Updated September 10th 2017 at 12:34 GMT +3

Local residents return home after the passage of Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Villa Clara province, 330km east of Havana, on September 9, 2017. Photo: AFP

Deadly Hurricane Irma battered central Cuba on Saturday, knocking down power lines, uprooting trees and ripping the roofs off homes as it headed towards Florida.

Authorities said they had evacuated more than a million people as a precaution, including about 4,000 in the capital.

Gusts, torrential rain and storm waves lashed Caibarien, a town of 40,000 people on Cuba's northern coast.

"Oh God, this is going to destroy the town," said a local woman who identified herself only as Francis, 19.

She fled her home near the seafront to seek refuge in her grandfather's house.

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"The water was already at the corner near my house. By now it will be full of water," she said.

Park benches torn up

Ambulances and firefighters patrolled streets littered with hunks of roofs, power lines and tree branches cast down by strong winds that blasted over Cuba on Saturday.

In one park, the wind tore up benches that had been screwed down into the concrete floor.

Local radio issued constant messages warning people not to leave their homes while the hurricane passed.

Yet still some locals came out into the streets on bicycles to check on their friends and relatives.

Ramon Cobas, 72, and his wife Rosa, 64, sheltered six relatives in their house, one of the sturdiest buildings in the town.

Fragments of glass rubble from other buildings struck the house as they huddled inside.

"These winds are stronger than those of Kate," said Rosa, referring to the devastation wrought in 1985 by Hurricane Kate.

"I'm afraid even this house will fall down. And I am afraid for the neighbors."

Residents were also afraid of flooding since the town has no storm drains in its streets.

Serious damage

Irma was "seriously" damaging the center of the island with winds up to 256 kilometers (159 miles) per hour, Cuban state media said.

The storm weakened slightly to Category 3 after making landfall in Cuba early Saturday, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

There were no confirmed casualties in Cuba. But the hurricane killed at least 25 people earlier on its path across the Caribbean.

Cuba's state meteorological service reported waves of up to seven meters (23 feet) on the northern coast. Irma was affecting the "whole territory" of Cuba, it said.

"It has finished raining, but all night long there were terrible winds" that ripped up trees, knocked down power lines and damaged roofs, Gisela Fernandez, a 42-year-old nurse in central Villa Clara province, told AFP.

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