October 25, 2012

Sandy drenches Jamaica, heads toward New England

A Maine meteorologist says it's too early to tell if the hurricane will hit Maine with its full force.

The Associated Press

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Hurricane Sandy lashed precarious shantytowns, stranded travelers and downed power lines with heavy wind and rain Wednesday as it roared across Jamaica and then headed for an overnight landfall in eastern Cuba and go on to threaten the Bahamas and possibly Florida.

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The projected path of Hurricane Sandy, which could eventually make its way up the East Coast.

AP

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Chris Kimble, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine, said it is still to early to predict whether Sandy will move up the East Coast and hit Maine with the full force of a hurricane.

"The possibilities right now are pretty widespread," Kimble said. "The best we can predict is that it's going to be windy and rainy."

Several reports have Hurricane Sandy moving into New England's vicinity Monday or Tuesday, but different models have different predictions on which direction the storm will move.

Sandy's death toll is already at least two. An elderly man was killed in Jamaica when he was crushed by a boulder that rolled onto his clapboard house, police reported. Earlier Wednesday, a woman in Haiti was swept away by a rushing river she was trying to cross.

The storm hit Jamaica as a category 1 hurricane then strengthened as it spun over open sea toward Cuba. U.S. forecasters said it had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph (150 kph) late Wednesday and might grow into a category 2 storm before going ashore. It was moving north at about 13 mph (20 kph) and hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.

In some southern towns on Jamaica, a few crocodiles were caught in rushing floodwaters that carried them out of their homes in mangrove thickets, showing up in districts where electricity was knocked out, local residents reported. One big croc took up temporary residence in a family's front yard in the city of Portmore.

The hurricane's eye crossed over Jamaica by Wednesday evening and emerged from its northern coast near the town of Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rain and winds continued to pound the Caribbean island into the night.

It was the first direct hit by the eye of a hurricane on Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert 24 years ago, and fearful 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 five miles (8 kilometers) east of the capital, Kingston.

Flash floods and mudslides were a threat for this debt-shackled tropical island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, which has a crumbling infrastructure and a number of sprawling shantytowns built on steep embankments and along gullies that sluice runoff water to the sea.

In the hilly community of Kintyre, on the outskirts of Kingston, Sharon Gayle and a few of her neighbors expected to completely lose the town's bridge over the Hope River, which washed away a section of the span just three weeks ago during a heavy downpour. The shell of a concrete home that collapsed into the river and killed two people several years ago still lies toppled on the sandy banks.

"I'm really nervous. We're trying not to show it in front of the children though," the mother of three said, huddling under a sopping white towel as she stared at the rising river.

The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass over eastern Cuba early Thursday, missing the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.

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