Hurricane Charley pummeled western Cuba and a darkened Havana early on Friday with howling winds that uprooted coconut trees and ripped roofs off houses on its furious path to the densely populated Florida coast.
Charley packed winds of 105 mph and a 10-14 foot storm surge when it hit Cuba's southern coast at midnight near the fishing village of Guanimar.
The storm uprooted coconut trees and ripped off roofs of houses, people in nearby Batabano said.
The hurricane crossed Cuba at its narrowest point, losing some intensity as it headed for the north coast at Baracoa, just west of Havana. The capital city and its province endured the onslaught in total darkness, as authorities cut off power to avoid electrical accidents.
"It's a disaster. The gusts smashed windows and doors, and lifted off the roof of a shelter," said a local official in San Antonio de los Banos, a town in the storm's path 22 miles south of Havana.
Weather experts said Charley would regain strength and become a "major" hurricane as it headed out over the Florida Straits on a path toward the fragile Florida Keys island chain and the densely populated St. Petersburg-Tampa area, informs Reuters.com
This is Florida's biggest evacuation request since 1999, when the Category 4 Hurricane Floyd brushed the state's east coast and prompted officials to urge a record 1.3 million people to evacuate.
Hurricane watches or warnings were extended to include most of Florida's gulf coast, and Charley was predicted to strike the Keys and the Florida gulf coast early today, informs Freep.com