Havana — 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 one-third of a mile inland in places.
Waves as high as 20 feet continued to pound 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 Monday.
Emergency workers and residents boated and waded through streets littered with toppled trees, downed electrical lines, roofs torn off by the winds and cement water tanks that fell from atop homes.
Elena Villar and her mother spent the night huddling in the lobby of a building on higher ground as her home of 30 years filled with more than 6 feet of water.
“I have lost everything,” she said, on the edge of tears.
Floodwaters entered the high-end Melia Cohiba and Riviera hotels, where the storm damaged the buildings, landscaping and roofing.
Water and wind damaged the seaside U.S. Embassy, tossing around shipping containers that sit on the compound, smashing parts of its black perimeter fence, ripping exterior panels from the building and breaking windows and doors. The embassy’s flag was in tatters fluttering from its staff Sunday.
Similar scenes played out across the Caribbean, where the storm devastated islands before setting its sights on Florida.
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