Cuba Evacuates As Hurricane Irma Batters Caribbean

CAIBARIEN, Cuba (CBSNewYork/AP) — Cuba evacuated tourists from beachside resorts after Hurricane Irma left at least 20 people dead and thousands homeless on a devastated string of Caribbean islands and spun toward Florida for what could be a catastrophic blow this weekend.

Irma weakened from a Category 5 storm to Category 4 on Friday morning with maximum sustained winds near 150 mph, but it remained a powerful hurricane.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Irma Devastates Caribbean

Florida braced for the onslaught, with forecasters warning that Irma could slam headlong into the Miami metropolitan area of 6 million people, punish the entire length of the state’s Atlantic coast and move into Georgia and South Carolina.

“If you’ve been ordered to evacuate and are still home, please go,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Friday. “Today is the day to do the right thing for your family and get inland to safety.”

The hurricane rolled past the Dominican Republic and Haiti and battered the Turks and Caicos Islands early Friday with waves as high as 20 feet. Communications went down as the storm slammed into the islands, and the extent of the devastation was unclear.

Irma also spun Friday morning along the northern coast of Cuba, where thousands of tourists were evacuated from low-lying keys off the coast dotted with all-inclusive resorts.

All residents of the area were under mandatory evacuation orders from the Cuban government, which was moving tens of thousands of people from vulnerable coastline.

The storm had claimed at least 20 lives, including nine on the French Caribbean islands of St.-Martin and St. Barts, four in the U.S. Virgin Islands, four in the British Virgin Islands and three on the British island of Anguilla, Barbuda and the Dutch side of St. Martin.

Officials on St. Thomas said they expected to find more bodies on the island where authorities described the damage as catastrophic and said crews were struggling to reopen roads and restore power.

Irma also slammed the French island of St. Barts, tearing off roofs and knocking out electricity in the high-end tourist destination.

On Barbuda, nearly every building was damaged when the hurricane’s core crossed almost directly over the island early Wednesday. About 60 percent of its roughly 1,400 residents were left homeless, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne said.

About a million people were without power in Puerto Rico after Irma sideswiped the island overnight, and nearly half the territory’s hospitals were relying on generators. No injuries were reported.

Farther out in the Atlantic, Hurricane Jose has now become an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, threatening the Caribbean islands already devastated by Irma.

(© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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