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Jamaica prepares for hurricane

A hurricane pounded Jamaica with heavy rain as it headed for landfall while airports closed, cruise ships steered clear and police ordered curfews to deter looting as the late-season storm neared Jamaica's south coast.

It was forecast to come ashore near the capital Kingston then spin on into eastern Cuba.

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

While Jamaica was ravaged by bands from Hurricane Ivan in 2004 and other powerful hurricanes centred offshore, the eye of a hurricane has not carved across the island since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988.

Dangerous flash floods and mudslides were a threat for the tropical island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, especially in mountainous areas.

In the hilly community of Kintyre Sharon Gayle and a few of her drenched neighbours 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. 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.

"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 as she stared at the rising river.

The island's bus service said it was on standby to evacuate residents of Kintyre, which is typically hammered even by relatively minor storms. Emergency officials ordered mandatory evacuations for people living in historically hard-hit low-lying and coastal towns.

The storm was predicted to drop as much as 12 inches of rain, especially over central and eastern parts of Jamaica, the country's meteorological service said. Some isolated spots could see as much as 20 inches. Battering waves and a strong storm surge were also forecast.

Airports in Kingston and Montego Bay closed for the day and Royal Caribbean Cruises announced that its Allure of the Seas megaship would not stop at Jamaica's northern Falmouth terminal, remaining at sea instead.

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