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Hurricane Sandy hammers Cuba: Is Florida next? (+videos)

Hurricane Sandy hit Cuba Thursday as a Category 2 hurricane. Flash flood warnings were issued. Hurricane Sandy is expect to hit the Bahamas later today. Sandy could pass by southeastern Florida by Friday.

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Hurricane Sandy made landfall Thursday just west of Santiago de Cuba in southern Cuba, where residents boarded over windows and cleared drainage gutters ahead of the strengthening storm that had roared across Jamaica and left two dead in the Caribbean.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Sandy, which had strengthened to a category 2 hurricane, was located over southeastern Cuba and moving north at 18 mph (30 kph), with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph) and is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves through the Bahamas.

The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass to the west of the U.S. naval base at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen. The military warned the 5,500 people living on the U.S. base to be ready for the storm. Officials said there was no threat to the 166 prisoners.

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The hurricane center said that Sandy would leave Cuba Thursday morning and would pass over the Bahamas later in the day. It might bring tropical storm conditions along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by Friday morning. Early Thursday, the tropical storm warning was extended northward as far as Flagler Beach and a tropical storm watch was issued for the northeastern Florida coast. Forecasters now expect Sandy to weaken into a tropical storm on Sunday, but it's path northward is uncertain.

Cuba's Communist government, known for its quick response to natural disasters, announced the evacuation of about 450 tourists from beach resorts near Santiago, according to Cuban state media, though hotel workers told The Associated Press they were not expecting any major problems.

Sandy "is a complex of strong rains, very intense," said civil defense Col. Miguel Angel Puig, adding that the rains could affect 200,000 people in Cuba.

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