KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Hurricane Sandy’s howling winds and rains lashed precarious shantytowns, stranded travelers and caused rivers to rise dangerously Wednesday as it roared across Jamaica on a course that would take it on to Cuba and then possibly threaten Florida.
At least one person was killed in nearby Haiti after being swept away by a rushing river.
In some southern towns on Jamaica, several crocodiles were caught in rushing floodwaters that carried them out of their homes in mangrove thickets. One big croc took up temporary residence in a family’s front yard in the city of Portmore.
By Wednesday evening the storm’s eye had crossed Jamaica and emerged off its northern coast near the town of Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rains and winds continued to pound the Caribbean island.
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 sprawling shantytowns built on steep embankments and in gullies.
On Friday morning, Sandy is predicted to be about 200 miles east of Miami, its closest approach to Florida.
It is forecast to generate sustained winds of 25 to 35 mph with occasional gusts to 50 mph, as well as 1 to 2 inches of rain in South Florida.
The worst conditions are expected to move in Thursday night and through the day on Friday.
Forecasters have issued tropical storm warnings and watches for parts of the southeastern coast of Florida and Keys.
Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center on Wednesday issued a warning for Ocean Reef to the Sebastian Inlet. Watches are out for north of Sebastian Inlet to Flagler Beach and the Florida Upper Keys.
Forecasters say tropical storm conditions were possible by Friday morning.
For South Florida, Sandy should be a less rainy-squally event than Hurricane Isaac was in late August - because this time, the region is on the storm’s drier side, said meteorologist Robert Molleda of the National Weather Service in Miami.
Just the same, there still is some potential for minor flooding, he said.
“We’re going to be the far western side of the circulation, so probably the heaviest rain will remain offshore,” he said. “But if the system nudges just a little to the west or grows larger in size, the rain bands could hug the coast.”
The winds will be the primary problem, as they could knock down trees and power lines, cause power outages and make driving dangerous, particularly for vans, SUVs and trucks, he said.
Central Florida also is forecast to be ruffled by gusty winds Thursday and Friday.
Additionally, much of the state’s east coast is expected to see dangerous rip currents, beach erosion and minor flooding Thursday and Friday.
The nasty weather should start to subside on Saturday.
“Sunday should be clearing up with lighter winds and nice weather,” Molleda said.