Hurricane Irma claims 10 lives in Cuba

In Hurricane Irma’s relentless 72-hour march across Cuba’s north coast from east to west, the storm left 10 people dead, including two women on a Havana bus who were killed when a fourth-story balcony tumbled on to the vehicle.

Although early forecasts had predicted the hurricane would take a northern curve before reaching the capital, Irma plowed into Havana, sending towering waves crashing over the seaside Malecón and causing seven deaths in the capital.

Coastal flooding was reported from Camagüey province to Matanzas in the west and along the Malecón. Cuba’s weather service said strong swells were still lashing the northwestern Cuban coastline Monday, but were expected to diminish through the day.

Irma made landfall in Cuba at 9 p.m. Friday and didn’t leave Cuban territory until Sunday afternoon. It was the first Category 5 hurricane to make landfall in Cuba since 1932 when a killer storm claimed more than 2,200 lives in Santa Cruz del Sur.

Cuba Hurricane Irma (6)

People move through flooded streets in Havana after the passage of Hurricane Irma on Sunday.

Ramon Espinosa AP

“These have been difficult days for our people who in only a few hours have seen what they constructed with so much effort struck down by a devastating hurricane,” said Cuban leader Raúl Castro in an address to the Cuban people that was published in Granma, the Cuban Communist Party’s newspaper. “The images of the last hours are eloquent as is the spirit of resistance and victory of our people who are reborn with every adversity.”

Castro called on the Cuban people to confront the recovery with the example of his late brother Fidel Castro “who taught us that impossibles don’t exist.”

Besides the two women, both 27 years old, who were killed by the falling balcony in Central Havana, a 71-year-old man died in Havana when he touched a live electric cable as he was trying to take down an antenna and a 77-year-old resident of Old Havana was killed as he crossed Egido Street and was hit by an electric pole dislodged by the wind.

Five people were killed when their homes collapsed, and an 89-year-old woman was found floating in the water in front of her Vedado home after the Havana storm surge, according to Cuba’s Civil Defense Council. Two brothers were killed after the partial collapse of a Havana dwelling and the three men who died in their homes in Matanzas, Ciego de Avila and Camagüey provinces did not observe evacuation orders, Cuban authorities said.

Waves in Havana reached some 30 feet. The hurricane pushed water as much as a third of a mile into some capital neighborhoods and the seaside highway was completed covered with water.

Cuba Hurricane Irma

Waves crash into El Morro after the passing of Hurricane Irma, in Havana on Sunday.

Ramon Espinosa AP

Residents of Central Havana awoke Sunday to find waist-high water in the streets and sometimes in their homes. Images from Havana showed refrigerators, furniture and other appliance floating in the high water. The government only began evacuations in Havana on Saturday, and many capital residents were surprised at the ferocity of the water.

Castro said Irma had caused severe damages that were still in the process of being tallied. Housing, the electrical system, and agriculture were all hit hard, he said. Although Castro said Cuba’s main tourist areas took a blow, he said repairs were expected to be completed before the winter high season.

Irma flooded coastal cities and towns all the way from Baracoa, which was hard hit by Hurricane Matthew last year, to Havana.

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A man carries a child on his shoulders as he walks on a flooded street in Havana, after the passing of Hurricane Irma in Cuba, Sunday. The powerful storm ripped roofs off houses, collapsed buildings and flooded hundreds of miles of coastline.

Ramon Espinosa AP

Ramón Pardo Guerra, chief of Cuba’s National Defense Council, told Granma that the effects on Cuban agriculture were “incalculable.” Among the crops that suffered heavy damages were bananas, rice, and sugar cane. At least 300,000 hectares of cane were damaged and 4,000 tons of sugar got wet.

Electrical systems in many towns were taken off line as a precautionary measure as Irma approached, and the storm brought down many lines and transformers. The government has not said how many homes currnetly do not have power, but the Telecommunications Ministry said that 86,000 fixed telephone lines were affected by the hurricane.