HURRICANE SANDY SLAMMED into Cuba early today as a “strong” category two storm after battering Jamaica, where it downed power lines and forced hundreds of people to seek emergency shelter.
The US-based National Hurricane Center said the storm was packing winds of up to 175 kilometers per hour as it made landfall at around 5.25am GMT and predicted that it would further strengthen in the coming hours.
The hurricane plowed across Jamaica yesterday, reportedly killing one person and forcing hundreds to seek shelter as it downed power lines and dropped heavy rains on the shantytowns around the capital Kingston.
Local paper The Gleaner said the storm had claimed its first victim – a 74-year-old man who was killed when a boulder rolled onto a house.
The country’s electricity provider meanwhile said some 70 percent of its customers were without power due to the high winds and torrential rain, and police ordered a 48-hour curfew in an effort to deter looters.
“This is a very serious storm,” Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller said ahead of the deluge, after cutting short a visit to Canada and rushing home before the island’s international airports closed.
The government takes the threat seriously and I call on all Jamaicans to do likewise and prepare to face the enormous risks that this type of weather system can bring.
The Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management said more than 1,064 people had moved into emergency shelters across the country, according to The Gleaner.
The eye of Sandy made landfall eight kilometers south of Kingston – home to one million of Jamaica’s 2.7 million inhabitants – at 3pm local time Wednesday (7pm GMT), packing winds of 80 miles per hour.
The storm was forecast to dump up to 12 inches of rain across Jamaica, eastern Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic — with some areas even seeing isolated totals of 20 inches.
The NHC warned:
These rains may produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain.
On the forecast track, Sandy will move over portions of eastern Cuba before heading to the Bahamas Thursday and Friday. Tropical storm conditions were also forecast for Florida’s east coast.
As heavy rain doused Cuba, some 1,700 people were evacuated in the country’s Santiago de Cuba province as a precautionary measure.
Local civil defence official Lazaro Esposito told Cuban television:
We cannot put a single human life in danger. We must evacuate people in areas we know are likely to be flooded, without losing time.
The approaching hurricane has also brought rough weather to the US naval base at Guantanamo where terror suspects are held. The Pentagon said a preliminary hearing at Guantanamo involving the alleged Al-Qaeda mastermind of the USS Cole bombing in 2000 was delayed until Thursday due to the storm.
In 2008, Cuba was hit by three hurricanes that caused a total of $10 billion in damage and affected more than half a million homes.
Tropical Storm Gustav, which was less powerful than Hurricane Sandy, with sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, killed seven people in Jamaica in 2008. Hurricane Ivan, a maximum category five on the Saffir-Simpson scale and the sixth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, killed 17 people and left 18,000 homeless when it smashed into Jamaica in September 2004.