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Tropical storm Sandy closes Jamaica airports

Tropical storm Sandy is headed for Jamaica, Bahamas, and Cuba. Tropical storm Sandy could dump as much as 20 inches of rain.

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Satellite photos of tropical storm Sandy at 8 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012.

National Hurricane Center

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Jamaicans hunkered down at home as Tropical Storm Sandy buffeted the Caribbean island with pelting rain and howling winds early Wednesday and forecasters said it was likely to hit as a hurricane.

The island's international airports prepared to close, cruise ships changed their itineraries and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting as the late-season storm neared Jamaica's south coast.

The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was forecast to pass over Jamaica and then spin on into eastern Cuba by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. It was expected to pass west of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings are being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.

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Across Jamaica, poor people in ramshackle shantytowns and moneyed residents in gated communities were jittery about Sandy's approach. Many sections of the debt-shackled country have crumbling infrastructure, and a lack of building codes has resulted in some middle-class homes and tin-roofed shacks being built close to steep embankments and gullies.

Dangerous flash floods and mudslides set off by Sandy were a threat for the island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, Jamaica's meteorological service said.

In the hilly community of Kintyre, near the capital of Kingston, Sharon Gayle and a few of her drenched neighbors expected to 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.

"We've gotten cut off here a whole heap of times. But with a big nasty hurricane on the way, 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.

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