MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The full force of Hurricane Irma raked the northern coast of Cuba with drenching rain and 155 mph winds.
The powerful Category 5 whipping winds sent the rain sideways over the coastal towns, sending water through cracks in the walls of buildings.
In Caibarien, the sea over took the town as a crashing waves and storm surge flooded streets, homes and businesses with about four feet of water. The flooding has destroyed tens, if not hundreds, of houses.
Reporter Patrick Oppman said the strongest house in town was literally coming apart.
Some people who left their homes took refuge in caves in the mountains.
Many people along the coast did not evacuate because the forecasts over the last few days did not indicate there would be a direct strike. They thought it would be a glancing blow and they would be able to get throught it.
Those who did leave, taking their mattress and televisions away on horse drawn carts, will likely return to find their homes destroyed.
The islands of the Camaguey Archipelago, which line the coast, have mainly tourist hotels. The Cuban government made sure they were evacuated in the days leading up to the storm’s landfall.
Oppman said he suspects the hotels will be closed for an extended period of time due to the extent of the damage.
Many on the island are concerned about the storm’s effect on Havana. While the city may not receive sustained hurricane force winds, the heavy rain, wind, and storm surge from Irma will certainly cause damage.
In the days leading up to the storm, the government pre-placed food, resources and building supplies so that immediately after the worst passes they will come in and begin the long recovery effort.