Hurricane Sandy blasted across eastern Cuba on Thursday as a potent Category 2 storm and headed for the Bahamas after causing at least two deaths in the Caribbean.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sandy had emerged of Cuba’s northeast coast around dawn and was moving north at 18 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph. It was expected to remain a hurricane as it moves through the Bahamas.
The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season passed well west of the U.S. naval base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen. But it intermittently knocked out power to some of the 5,500 people living on the base. Officials said there was no threat to the 166 prisoners.
The hurricane center said that Sandy would likely still be a hurricane as it passes over the Bahamas later in the day. It also might bring tropical storm conditions along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by Friday morning.
A tropical storm warning was extended northward as far as Flagler Beach and a tropical storm watch was issued for the northeastern Florida coast.
Cuba’s communist government, known for its quick response to natural disasters, announced the evacuation of about 450 tourists from beach resorts near the eastern city of Santiago, according to Cuban state media, though hotel workers told The Associated Press they were not expecting any major problems.
Sandy “is a complex of strong rains, very intense,” said civil defense Col. Miguel Angel Puig, adding that the rains could affect 200,000 people in Cuba.
The U.S. hurricane center had said Sandy is expected to produce total rainfall of 6 to 12 inches across Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba.
“These rains may produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain,” the center said.
Eastern Cuba is mountainous and home to independent and state farms growing yucca, sugar, corn, coffee and fruit, among other crops.
Fishermen on the Gulf of Guaranayabo, where Manzanillo is located, moved their boats to safer ground.
In Santiago, Cuba’s second-largest city, tourist hotels prepared by getting generators ready and closing off some outdoor spaces and pools, though there were no evacuations other than from the beach resorts.
“We’re well prepared for the storm,” said Mayte Cuesta, an employee of the Hotel Melia Santiago. “It will affect us, but we don’t think there is any danger.”
As Sandy crossed over Jamaica on Wednesday an elderly man was killed by a boulder that crashed into his clapboard house, police said. In southwestern Haiti, a woman died in the town of Camp Perrin after she was swept away by a river she was trying to cross, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of the country’s civil protection office.
Jamaican authorities closed the island’s international airports and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting. Cruise ships changed their itineraries to avoid the storm, which made landfall Wednesday afternoon near the capital, Kingston.
In some southern towns on Jamaica, rushing floodwaters carried crocodiles out of their habitat in mangrove thickets. One big croc took up temporary residence in a family’s front yard in the city of Portmore.
Stranded business travelers and a smattering of locals rode out the hurricane in hotels clustered along a strip in Kingston’s financial district. Some read prayer books or novels, while others watched movies or communicated with loved ones on computers.
Far out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Tony was weakening and posed no threat to land. The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph and was moving east-northeast at 23 mph. Its center was 835 miles west-southwest of the Azores.
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