Kingston, Jamaica - Hurricane Sandy battered Jamaica with ferocious winds, waves and rain on Wednesday, knocking down trees and power lines across the Caribbean country as it cut a path toward Cuba and the Bahamas.
Schools and businesses were closed and authorities moved residents in low-lying, flood-prone areas into shelters as steady rain and winds pounded Jamaica.
Residents reported widespread power outages, flooded streets and some severely damaged homes.
“A part of the roof of my veranda just went like that,” said Walford Freak, 55, who lives in the coastal city of Iter Boreale. “At least five of my neighbours have lost their entire roofs.”
At 8pm, Sandy was 95km north-northeast of Kingston, moving north at 22km/h with top sustained winds of 130km/h, the United States National Hurricane Centre said.
The eye of the storm was between Jamaica and Cuba.
In Jamaica, police imposed curfews on 80 communities as a deterrent to looting during the passage of the storm.
Police said looters shot and wounded a police official, Senior Superintendent Terrence Bent, 44, as he led a group of officers through a volatile section of West Kingston called Craig Town.
A police official said at least one person was killed during the storm, a man who died under a crush of stones that fell from a hillside as he tried to get into his house in a rural village near the Jamaican capital.
The country's sole electricity provider, the Jamaica Public Service Company, reported that 70 percent of its customers were without power.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Cuba, where forecasters said Sandy was expected to make landfall as a Category One storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity.
Sandy's expected path will not take it into the Gulf of Mexico, where US oil and gas operations are clustered.
Computer models show Sandy on a projected path carrying it over eastern Cuba and losing hurricane strength as it approaches the Bahamas. It is then forecast to become a hurricane again as it passes over the island chain.
A hurricane watch was also issued for central and northwestern Bahamas, and a tropical storm watch was in place for south Florida, though computer models show the centre of Sandy is expected to pass well to the east of the Florida coast.
“It is a big storm and it's going to grow in size after it leaves Cuba,” said Michael Brennan, a hurricane forecaster at the NHC in Miami.
He said the storm's wind field was likely to extend 320km west from the centre as it passed over the Bahamas, causing “very high surf and dangerous conditions all the way up the east coast into the Carolinas”.
Forecasters are not sure where it would go after that, with some computer models showing it could pose a risk to the US Northeast early next week.
“It's too early to tell but there are some signs that have it hooking back towards the mainland as a wintertime 'nor-easter,'“ said Brennan, referring to the powerful storms that can form in the north Atlantic at this time of year.
Sandy is expected to dump as much as 15cm to 30cm of rain across parts of Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba, with as much as 50cm possible in some places, forecasters said.
Storm surge could also raise water levels on Jamaica's south and east coasts by 30cm to 90cm above normal tide levels, it added, and as much as 1.5m to 2.5m above normal in the Bahamas on Friday. - Reuters