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Hurricane Sandy heads for Bahamas

Hurricane Sandy blasted across eastern Cuba as a potent Category 2 storm and headed for the Bahamas after causing at least two deaths in the Caribbean.

The US National Hurricane Centre said Sandy had emerged off Cuba's northeast coast around dawn and was moving north at 18 mph (30 kph), with maximum sustained winds of 105 mph (165 kph). It was expected to remain a hurricane as it moves through the Bahamas.

The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season passed well west of the US naval base at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay, where pre-trial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen. But it intermittently knocked out power to some of the 5,500 people living on the base. Officials said there was no threat to the 166 prisoners.

The hurricane centre said that Sandy was likely still to be a hurricane as it passes over the Bahamas later in the day. It also might bring tropical storm conditions along the south-eastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by morning. A tropical storm warning was extended northward as far as Flagler Beach and a tropical storm watch was issued for the north-eastern Florida coast.

Cuba's communist government, known for its quick response to natural disasters, announced the evacuation of about 450 tourists from beach resorts near the eastern city of Santiago, though hotel workers said they were not expecting any major problems. Sandy "is a complex of strong rains, very intense," said civil defence Col. Miguel Angel Puig, adding that the rains could affect 200,000 people in Cuba.

The US hurricane centre had said Sandy is expected to produce total rainfall of six to 12 inches across Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba. "These rains may produce life-threatening flash floods and mud slides, especially in areas of mountainous terrain," the centre said.

In Santiago, Cuba's second-largest city, tourist hotels prepared by getting generators ready and closing off some outdoor spaces and pools, though there were no evacuations other than from the beach resorts.

As Sandy crossed over Jamaica an elderly man was killed by a boulder that crashed into his clapboard house. In south-western Haiti, a woman died in the town of Camp Perrin after she was swept away by a river she was trying to cross.

Jamaican 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 near the capital, Kingston.

In some southern towns on Jamaica, rushing floodwaters carried crocodiles out of their habitat in mangrove thickets. One big croc took up temporary residence in a family's front yard in the city of Portmore.

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