October 25, 2012 10:30:42 AM
MANZANILLO, Cuba -- 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 (30 kph), with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph). 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.
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.
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.