Cuba airlifts dolphins to safety as Hurricane Irma slams the island

As Hurricane Irma continued its devastating run in the Caribbean, Cuba evacuated dolphins held in a dolphinarium in the north of the country, where Irma made landfall Friday night.

The six dolphins were wrapped in wet towels to ensure healthy travel and put on helicopters that took the dolphins to the province of Cienfuegos, the Mirror reported.

As of Friday, they were put in a swimming pool -- but they could be moved again if the hurricane's effects make that necessary, officials said.

Dolphinarum manager Gonzalo Carrero Escobar said the pool offered the dolphins “similar conditions to their natural life.” But he added that, “If the weather situation does not allow us to keep them there, they will be displaced to the saltwater swimming pool of a hotel.”

Early Friday, waves as high as 23 feet were slamming into Cuba’s eastern towns, prompting flooding and power outages, the Miami Herald reported.

“Luckily we have only experienced rains, sea penetrations and some winds ... but sincerely, nothing compared to what we were expecting,” a local radio station in Baracoa city wrote on Facebook, according to the Herald. 25,000 people reportedly evacuated from the city.

But just as Cubans thought they had escaped the devastation seen on other Caribbean islands, the full strength of Irma slammed the country again Friday evening, hitting Ciego de Avila province around midnight.

As it struck the country with 160 mph winds, on its way toward Florida, Irma was upgraded from Category 4 to Category 5 – the most powerful designation by the National Hurricane Center.

And Irma's effects in Cuba reportedly began to look a lot like the devastation seen on other Caribbean islands over the last week.

The full extent of the damage in Cuba remained unclear early Saturday, but devastating scenes were expected to be revealed as the hurricane moved through popular tourist destinations along Cuba's northern coast, with more than 50 hotels, Reuters reported.

Anaida Gonzalez, a retired nurse hunkered down in the central province of Camaguey, told Reuters that “There are really strong gusts of wind. It is pouring off and on, and the lights are out.”

Irma is now on a path to hit Florida, potentially on Sunday. Florida officials asked around 5.6 million people to evacuate ahead of landfall to avoid a potential catastrophe.