Hurricane Sandy kills 3, slams Bahamas

2012-10-25 22:41

Havana - A powerful Hurricane Sandy pounded the Bahamas on Thursday, after claiming three lives in battered Jamaica and Haiti, and tearing through mountainous eastern Cuba.

Forecast models predicted the storm would travel up the US East Coast over the weekend and early next week, when it could become a hybrid hurricane/nor'easter storm with powerful winds and rains.

The US National Hurricane Centre said the storm was packing winds of up to 169km as it moved north, near the top of the category two range on the five-level Saffir-Simpson wind scale.

Forecasters predicted the storm would weaken somewhat over the next 48 hours but remain a hurricane as it moves over the Bahamas.

At 18:00 GMT, the center of Sandy was moving between Long Island and Great Exuma Island. It was located about 40km east of Great Exuma as it moved north at 32km/h.

The storm uprooted coconut trees and knocked down power and phone lines in the Central Bahamas, while tourists left and hotels closed on Cat Island, The Nassau Guardian reported.

"Winds are howling in Nassau on Cable Beach. Rain so heavy the Sheraton is leaking - drip. #Sandy," Denise Ryan, an American tourist riding out the storm in the Bahamian capital, wrote on Twitter.

Across the Bahamas, all public schools, government offices, airports, seaports and bridges were set to be closed Thursday and Friday as a precautionary measure, while emergency personnel remained on duty.

Up to 150mm of rain were expected over portions of the Bahamas, with up to 300mm possible in some areas.

Be prepared

Prime Minister Perry Christie warned residents on Wednesday to get ready for the storm, advising businesses, including banks, to also stay shut through Friday.

"My government stands ready to assist residents who may be impacted in the projected areas. I impress upon you to secure yourselves and your property," he told lawmakers.

The hurricane ploughed across Jamaica and Haiti on Wednesday, dumping heavy rains, downing power lines, and forcing hundreds of people to seek emergency shelter. It was expected to dump up to 300mm of rain across Haiti and the neighbouring Dominican Republic, with up to 500mm in isolated areas.

Jamaican paper The Gleaner reported a 74-year-old person was killed when a boulder rolled onto a house. In Haiti, a woman drowned trying to cross a swollen river in Camp-Perrin and another died in the small town of Coteaux, a regional senator told AFP.

Jamaica's electricity provider said some 70% of its customers were without power due to Sandy, and police had ordered a 48-hour curfew in an effort to deter looters.

Haiti was on "red alert" with all schools closed.

In the Central American nation of Costa Rica, heavy rains from Sandy damaged roads, left villages cut off and triggered landslides, but there were no reported injuries or deaths, authorities said.

Sandy damaged hundreds of homes in Cuba, flooded crops, downed trees and caused other damage, according to official media.

"It was terrible. Roofs were flying off lots of houses. Doors, too, and windows," said Laquesis Bravo, who lives on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba.

On alert

Some 1 700 people had been evacuated in Santiago de Cuba province as a precautionary measure. The hurricane also affected the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where 167 terror suspects are held.

In the United States, Florida authorities were on alert for tropical storm conditions.

"Residents and visitors in the warning and watch areas should prepare for impacts as soon as possible with an emergency plan and disaster supply kit," the Florida Division of Emergency Management said in a statement.

Schools in the southern Florida counties of Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward were closed for the rest of the week.

Despite the bad weather in Miami, international flights from major airports in the state were kept on schedule, though some headed to or coming from the Bahamas, Jamaica and other Caribbean destinations were suspended.

The Atlantic hurricane season runs from 1 June to 30 November.