HAVANA.- (RHC-teleSUR)-- Hurricane Irma briefly strengthened to a Category 5, slamming Cuba's coast late Friday night. It now continues its path as a Category 4 with sustained winds of 155 miles per hour, lashing evacuated coastal regions in Cuba and causing flooding. Irma is the first Category 5 storm to make landfall in Cuba in decades.

According to the President of the Province of Camaguey, Isabel Gonzalez Cardenas speaking on TV Cubana, the storm has left behind significant damage to the region. Officials have not reported any casualties due to the early evacuations ordered for both local coastal residents and tourists.

Storm surges later on Saturday in Havana are expected to push waters between 200 and 500 meters inland, with waves up to five meters high through Sunday in the western regions of the country.

Earlier, the storm pummeled the Turks and Caicos Islands after saturating the northern edges of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

It was downgraded from a Category 5 to a Category 4 early on Friday after passing over the Dominican Republic and Haiti, but regained strength before hitting Cuba.  After several hours at a Category 5, its winds lowered to 155, bringing it back down to a four.

Irma is expected to continue strafing Cuba's coast before heading up toward the U.S. state of Florida, slamming the Florida Keys as a borderline Category 5 or Category 4 storm. Florida has ordered the mandatory evacuation of nearly 6 million people.

Edited by Ed Newman

The storm has left behind significant damage in Santa Lucia beach and Nuevitas city, Camagüey. Photo: Leandro Pérez Pérez/ Adelante

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