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Irma ravages Cuba; Florida braces for hit

Miami: Hurricane Irma pummeled the north coast of Cuba on Saturday, inflicting "significant damage" as millions of people in the US state of Florida hunkered down for a direct hit from the monster storm. Irma's blast through the Cuban coastline weakened the storm to a Category Three, but it was still packing 205 kilometer per hour and was expected to regain power before hitting the Florida Keys early on Sunday, said US forecasters.

In Florida, cities on both the east and west coasts of the peninsular state took on the appearance of ghost towns, as nervous residents heeded insistent evacuation orders affecting 5.6 million people. The storm's forecast track has shifted slightly, so it now looks bound for Florida's west Gulf coast instead of the Atlantic coast, with landfall expected on Sunday morning in the Florida Keys. But Irma is so wide that authorities were bracing for destructive storm surges on both coasts and the Keys, the chain of low-lying islands that stretch south of Miami toward Cuba. "What's out there is terrible," said Gisela Fernandez, a 42-year-old nurse, after the storm whipped the town in Chapara in the province of Las Tunas on Friday.
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