NASSAU, Bahamas – Hurricane Sandy lashed the central Bahamas on Thursday night with violent winds and torrential rains, after raging through the Caribbean where it caused at least 21 deaths and forced postponement of a hearing at the Guantanamo naval base on Cuba.
State media in Cuba said Sandy toppled houses, ripped off roofs and killed 11 people in the eastern provinces of Santiago and Guantanamo as it roared over the island as a Category 2 storm early Thursday. Nine deaths were reported in Haiti and one in Jamaica.
Meanwhile, forecasters warned that Sandy will likely blend with a winter storm to cause a super storm in the eastern U.S. next week whose effects will be felt along the entire Atlantic Coast from Florida to Maine and inland to Ohio.
Some weakening in Sandy was forecast during the next 48 hours, but it was expected to remain a hurricane for a couple of days.
By Thursday evening, the hurricane’s center was about 105 miles east of the Bahamas capital of Nassau as it spun between Cat Island and Eleuthera in the central Bahamas. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, down slightly from earlier in the day, and was moving north-northwest at 17 mph.
Caroline Turnquest, head of the Red Cross in the Bahamas archipelago off Florida’s east coast, said 20 shelters were opened on the main island of New Providence.
“Generally people are realizing it is serious,” she said.
On Ragged Island in the southern Bahamas, the lone school was flooded. “We have holes in roofs, lost shingles and power lines are down,” said Charlene Bain, local Red Cross president. “But nobody lost a life, that’s the important thing.”
Steven Russell, an emergency management official in Nassau, said that docks on the western side of Great Inagua island had been destroyed and that the roof of a government building was partially ripped off.
“As the storm passes over Eleuthera and Cat Island, they should get a pretty good beating,” he said. “There are sections of Eleuthera we are concerned about.”
Hurricane Sandy was expected to churn through the central and northwest Bahamas late Thursday and early today. It also might cause tropical storm conditions along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by this morning.