Huge waves and a powerful storm surge from Hurricane Irma topped Havana's iconic Malecon seawall and left thousands of homes, businesses and hotels swamped. The seawater penetrated as much as half a kilometre (one-third of a mile) inland in places.

Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
People wade through deep water on a street in Havana as huge waves crash over the seawallYamil Lage/AFP

Hurricane Irma was packing 160 mph (260 kph) winds when it made landfall in Cuba, the most powerful storm to hit the island since 1932. It tore off roofs and downed electricity poles throughout the country before turning northwards and ploughing through Florida.

Cuba's coast battered by Irma Reuters

Waves as high as 20 feet (six metres) pounded Havana, with the spray topping the lighthouse at the Morro fortress on the entrance to the bay. Emergency workers and residents boated and waded through streets littered with toppled trees, downed electrical lines, roofs torn off by the winds and cement water tanks that fell from the tops of homes.

Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A man wading along a flooded street in Havana watches as a huge wave breaks against Morro Castle
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
Waves crash against the El Malecon seafront boulevard in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
This photo shows the extent of the flooding in HavanaYamil Lage/AFP
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
Members of a rescue brigade wade through a flooded area in HavanaYamil Lage/AFP

Havana was spared a direct hit but people living close to the seafront were dealing with waterlogged homes and possessions after 36 foot (11 metre) waves breached the city's curving sea wall, turning roads into canals. Some let off steam by diving into flooded streets, paddling on wooden boards, or wading to the shops for rum through the waist-deep water.

Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A man carries his Wellington boots through the waist-deep floodwaters in HavanaYamil Lage/AFP
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A man crosses a flooded street in HavanaYamil Lage/AFP
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
Children play with a wooden door on a flooded street in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A man gestures to his dog as it paddles along a flooded street in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A woman keeps her shoes dry on a piece of polystyrene on a flooded street in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
People wade through a flooded area of Havana in front of a sign that reads 'We will continue to defend the revolution'Reuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
Men run along a flooded street, after the passing of Hurricane Irma, in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A woman sits in the door of her flooded home in Havana, after the passing of Hurricane IrmaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A woman stands in deep water in the kitchen of her flooded home in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A woman wades through floodwaters in her home in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A man is rescued from a flooded neighbourhood in HavanaReuters
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
Cubans pick their way through the rubble of a collapsed building in HavanaYamil Lage/AFP
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
People clear up the rubble of damaged buildings in the Cojimar neighbourhood of Havana

There were no immediate reports of fatalities in Cuba, where the government prides itself on disaster preparedness and said it had evacuated more than one million people. Irma has killed at least 24 people in the Caribbean.

In Caibarien, a small coastal city about 200 miles east of Havana where many residents stayed put to ride out the storm, winds downed power lines and neighbourhoods were under water.

Hurricane Irma
Local residents return home after the passage of Hurricane Irma in Caibarien, Villa Clara provinceAdalberto Roque/AFP
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A man walks against heavy winds in Caibarien, Villa Clara provinceAdalberto Roque/AFP
Hurricane Irma Havana Cuba
A man wades through floodwaters on a street in Caibarien, Villa Clara province, 330km east of HavanaAdalberto Roque/AFP

Authorities warned that there was as-yet unknown damage to sugarcane and banana fields in central Cuba and to northern cays studded with all-inclusive resorts, potentially dealing a major blow to the country's key tourism industry.