Cuba has evacuated 10,000 foreign tourists, many of them Canadians, from beach resorts and raised its disaster alert level to maximum as Hurricane Irma rapidly approached the Caribbean's biggest island on Thursday.
Most of the tourists were evacuated from around the beaches and cays in the exposed east and center of the island, the tourism ministry said.
Among the evacuees were more than 6,000 vacationers who were relocated to Vardarero and Havana, located outside the danger zone, given the hurricane's probable trajectory.
A further 2,400 tourists were transferred from the exposed eastern province of Camaguey to facilities in the interior, it said.
"Most Canadian visitors, who represent 60 percent of the total, have absolute protection" in the areas where they have been taken, Tourism Minister Manuel Marrero said.
In recent days, Canadian tour operators have repatriated some of their clients, he said.
Irma, packing winds of 185 miles per hour (295 kilometers per hour), has left a trail of devastation across small islands in the Caribbean, killing at least nine people.
It is set to sideswipe Cuba in the early hours of Friday morning.
The capital Havana, with a population of two million, is outside the probable trajectory and has been put on a lower level of alert by the authorities.
According to the US National Hurricane Center, the eye of Irma is unlikely to touch Cuba.