Hurricane Sandy moves towards US
Hurricane Sandy pounded the Bahamas with battering winds and rain on today, sweeping over the island chain after killing 21 people across the Caribbean and posing a threat to the US east coast.
Forecasters warned the late-season storm is expected to combine with a polar air mass near the United States next week, potentially producing a highly unusual and potent storm that could wreak havoc.
The US National Hurricane Center early today issued tropical storm warnings for much of the Florida coast and tropical storm watches up through much of North Carolina.
Late yesterday, Sandy weakened to a Category 1 storm as it tore though sparsely populated low-lying southeastern islands in the Bahamas, knocking out power and blowing off rooftops of some homes.
Sandy's torrential rains and heavy winds were blamed for the deaths of 21 people.
The Cuban government said last night that 11 people died when the storm barrelled across the island, most killed by falling trees or in building collapses in Santiago de Cuba province and neighbouring Guantanamo province.
Haiti's civil protection office said nine people died even though the country did not suffer a direct hit from Sandy, and one person was killed by falling rocks in Jamaica when the storm struck there on Wednesday.
The Cuban deaths were an unusually high number for the communist island which prides itself on protecting its people from storms by ordering mass evacuations.
Winds and rains generated by Sandy were also being felt in south Florida. Early today, the US National Hurricane Center said Sandy was about 25km southeast of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and packing maximum sustained winds of 130kph.
Sandy is forecast to remain a Category 1 hurricane as it continues to move over the Bahamas today, sending swirling rains and winds across several hundred miles. It is expected to move past the Bahamas by Friday evening and head north off the US coast.
Forecasters say Sandy is expected to be pulled in by another storm system moving from the west, making it come ashore in the northeastern United States late Monday or early Tuesday and unleashing heavy rains, storm surges and possibly near hurricane-force winds.
Weather trackers say the hardest-hit areas could span anywhere from the coastal Carolinas up to Maine, with New York City and the Boston area potentially in harm's way.
Sandy is expected to hit the United States during a full moon, increasing the flood potential since tides will be at or near their highest.