Irma is the first Category 5 hurricane since 1932 whose eye made landfall in Cuba, meteorologist José Rubiera said on Cuba television Saturday. Dictator Gerardo Machado was in power and Americans had just elected President Franklin D. Roosevelt to pull the nation out of the Great Depression.
Irma made landfall Friday in Cayo Romano in northern Camagüey province at 9 p.m. The 1932 hurricane struck Camagüey also, but from the south.
Cubadebate, the Cuban government media website, said that more than 1 million people had been evacuated from low-lying areas in the central Cuban provinces first placed under a state of alert. That number is expected to grow as western provinces were added to the alert list.
Instead of curving toward the north as soon as anticipated and staying off the Cuban coast, Irma continued a relentless march west across northern Cuba late into the evening Saturday.
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High waves crashing over Havana’s Malecón seawall and water streaming into city streets prompted evacuations of those living near the sea in Playa, Centro Habana, Habana del Este and other low-lying neighborhoods of the capital.
Images from José Raúl Torres Herrera, of Telecubanacán, showed water streaming down major thoroughfares and large trees toppled in the city of Santa Clara in central Cuba.
Social media photos from central coastal areas showed fallen homes, many houses missing metal roof panels and electrical poles and lines tilting at crazy angles.
The 1932 hurricane came ashore in Camagüey province. Waves and storm surge were reported to reach 30 feet, essentially burying the town of Santa Cruz del Sur in a wall of water, and killing more than 2,200 people. It was known alternately as the Hurricane of Santa Cruz del Sur and the 1932 Camagüey hurricane — the deadliest and one of the most intense tropical cyclones in Cuban history.
A Cuban website, La Cultura Santacruzeña, said the town in southeastern Cuba got word of looming dangerous weather in 1932 by a telegram to the Custom’s affice at the city’s port.