Dolphins & tourists evacuated as Cuba braces for hurricanes Irma & Jose (PHOTOS)
Hurricane Irma barrelled into the island’s northern coast early Saturday, fresh from claiming 21 lives as it roared across the eastern Caribbean and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake.
The Category 4 storm hit Cuba’s Ciego de Avila province shortly after midnight, bringing 260kph winds and lashing rain.
News coverage on the island is filled with footage of enormous waves breaking over sea walls and fallen electricity lines. The hurricane is forecast to bring dangerous storm surges of up to three meters, Reuters reports.
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose, following hot on Irma’s heels, is set to pass through many of the same islands ravaged by its predecessor.
The Miami-based National Hurricane Center says the storm is nearing Category 5 status, carrying winds of up to 240kph.
Ahead of this double onslaught, Cubans boarded up windows and secured valuables, while tourists have been evacuated or moved to shelters.
The country’s ACN state news agency reported that six dolphins have been airlifted to safety from an aquarium.
The animals were wrapped in wet towels and placed on foam mattresses for evacuation by helicopter. Accompanied by their handlers, the marine mammals were taken to the province of Cienfuego in the southwest of the country.
“For the moment, they are in a pool that offers similar living conditions and if the weather doesn’t allow them to be kept there, they will be moved to a salt water pool at a hotel,” the head of the aquarium, Gonzalo Carrero Escobar, said, according to AFP.
Florida is bracing itself for Irma’s arrival early Sunday. Over five million people have been ordered to evacuate, causing huge traffic problems on highways as well as gas shortages and long lines at filling stations.