The first Category 5 hurricane to hit Cuba in more than 80 years flooded streets and downed power and telephone lines along a popular stretch of tourist beaches on Cuba's north coast, forcing one million people to be evacuated. the government said.
However, there was no immediate reports of loss of life, a testament to Cuba's reputation for careful pre-storm preparations.
Hurricane Irma's intensity dropped slightly on Saturday as it passed over Cuba with 160 mph winds, but was expected to strengthen again as it approaches Florida.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday evening that Irma remained a Category 3 storm on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane wind scale with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph). The storm's center was about 90 miles southeast of Key West, Florida.
The storm pounded Havana's famous Malecon seafront all day as well as the tourism resorts that stretch along the coast of Villa Clara province to Varadero, Cuba’s most famous beach. Hotels on Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo, popular with Canadian and European tourists, sustained serious damage, Reuters reported.
In the nearby town of Caibarien, Cuban TV reported major flooding, downed tress as well as telephone and electricity poles. Power was cut to several towns region.
"There are houses destroyed. The sea has already entered this area and the waterfront is now under water," said CNN's Patrick Oppman reporting from Caibarién, who said that some areas in that area had floods of up to five feet in height.
Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated prior to Irma's arrival in Cuba, Oppman said, including tourists visiting the keys to the north of the island.
On Saturday afternoon, the US National Hurricane Center (CNH) reported rainfall in northern Cuba of 10 to 15 inches and some of up to 20 in isolated locations.
Cuban state TV also showed images from the town of Yaguajay in Santi Spiritis province where stores and warehouses, as well as schools and the local cinema lost roofs.