Will Hurricane Irma Hit Havana? Cuba Has Disaster Preparedness Down
Hurricane Irma is a Category 5 storm, and with wind speeds of up to 185 miles per hour, it is one of the strongest recorded hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean. Irma has already left at least 10 people dead after hitting Barbuda, St. Martin, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, and other island nations in the northeastern Caribbean. But will Hurricane Irma hit Havana? The Cuban capital has not yet been placed under a hurricane watch, but the city's residents have nonetheless flocked to supermarkets to purchase hurricane supplies.
According to the Miami Herald, Cuban forecasters are projecting that Irma will pass along the country's northern coast on Friday night before making its way toward Florida. On Tuesday, Cuba's National Civil Defense Staff launched its "informative phase of operations" to inform 11 provinces of Irma's impending arrival and how to prepare. The provinces that received this information include Ciego de Ávila in the northeast, Matanzas in central Cuba, and Guantánamo in the east. Havana — which is located in western Cuba — is currently not under a hurricane watch, because the hurricane is expected to make landfall in the northeastern Ciego de Ávila province before skirting the coast.
On Wednesday, Cuba intensified its preparations ahead of Irma's arrival. Initial forecasts seemed to indicate that Cuba would be spared a direct hit, but now that it is projected to sweep across the country's northern coast, Cuba is storing crops, ensuring that its communications systems are functional, and cleaning the caves in which Cubans in rural areas are expected to seek shelter. The country is known for its thorough natural disaster preparedness, American University professor William LeoGrande told the Herald.
"Cuba has perfected the art of hurricane preparedness by mobilizing local neighborhood organizations and the military to evacuate not only residents in the path of ongoing storms but their pets and their most prized possessions,” LeoGrande said.
However, some Cubans did question their government's seemingly belated preparations. Both the Herald and some Twitter users indicated that the Cuban government had been subtle about Irma's approach, to the point that not everyone in the country was aware of how much devastation the hurricane had caused in Barbuda, Anguilla, St. Martin, and the British Virgin Islands.
According to a tweet from the official Overseas Security Advisory Council, the United States has authorized all personnel at the American Embassy in Cuba to evacuate before Irma arrives. The embassy in Havana also issued the following travel warning for U.S. citizens:
Current projections from the National Hurricane Center indicate that Hurricane Irma could begin affecting the eastern provinces of Cuba by Friday morning, September 8 and the remainder of Cuba throughout the weekend of September 9-10.
Although La Habana province — in which Havana is located — was not among the 11 provinces placed under a hurricane watch, the city's residents are being cautious. Local supermarkets have reportedly seen long lines ahead of Irma's arrival as people try to stock up on food and supplies. Irma is expected to head north along Cuba's coast, but it is projected to veer northwest toward Florida before approaching Havana.