Hurricane Ike hit Cuba Sunday night with sustained winds of 195 km/hr and gusts of 205 km/hr, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
As many as 600,000 people had been evacuated from eastern Cuba, the Associated Press calculated, while others took to shelters. State television showed a storm surge flooding coastal homes in the city of Bayamo. Dozens of dwellings were badly damaged, it reported.
Heavy rains were falling on the east-central province of Camaguey, as foreign tourists left vulnerable beach resorts and workers protected crops.
The eye of the Category 3 storm — at the middle of the Saffir-Simpson scale — hit Holguin province at the eastern end of Cuba's north coast at 9:45 p.m. ET, the centre said.
Category 3 storms can include surges of up to four metres above normal tides, leading to flooding of low-lying areas, damage to homes and destruction of trees.
On its current track and speed of 20 km/h, Ike will move along the length of Cuba east to west, hitting Havana Monday night and nearing the west end on Tuesday.
In southern Florida, residents of the Keys fled up a narrow highway, fearful that the hurricane could hit them after it leaves Cuba.
Grand Turk homes ravaged
Earlier Sunday, Ike damaged most of the homes on Grand Turk Island .
Turks and Caicos Premier Michael Misick said the storm damaged 80 per cent of the homes on the main island and that hundreds lost their roofs as the hurricane made a near-direct hit.
In South Caicos, a fishing-dependent island of 1,500 people, most homes were damaged, the airport was under water, power will be out for weeks, and every single boat was swept away, despite having been towed ashore for safety, a government official said.
Haiti hit again
Heavy rain was reported in Haiti, bringing more misery to the port city of Gonaives, where people climbed on to rooftops to escape rising flood waters for the second time in a week.
At least 58 people died in Haiti Sunday, while a Dominican man was crushed by a falling tree.
At least 260 people have died from four tropical storms in recent weeks in Haiti. Gonaives Mayor Stephen Moise said he believes the death toll could soon double because of flooding.
In central Haiti, high water levels caused the collapse of the Mirebalais bridge, cutting off the last land route into Gonaives.