It’s a massive hybrid weather system that has been called “Franken-Storm” and it has its eye on the northeastern United States after wreaking havoc in three Caribbean countries and in the Bahamas on Thursday.
Hurricane Sandy slammed into eastern Cuba as a bigger, stronger and deadlier storm than expected before tearing into Haiti and Jamaica and heading north to the Bahamas. The powerful storm left 21 dead in its wake, as well as a trail of collapsed buildings, shredded roofs, ruined crops and flooded hospitals.
The concern turns now to the possible damage Sandy will inflict farther north early next week when it reaches the American Mid-Atlantic states, where it will meet frigid air shooting down from Canada and a winter storm sweeping to the east. Many meteorologists expect the systems to blend into a broad, messy monster that could bring 70-mph winds, extreme flooding tides, freezing rain and maybe even snow along much of the East Coast.
Cuba suffered the greatest loss of life on Thursday with 11 deaths, while nine died as a result of the storm in Haiti and one more in Jamaica.
In Cuba, the dead included a 4-month-old boy and an 84-year-old-man, according to state-run television.
The heaviest damage appeared to be in the Holguin province and the historic city of Santiago de Cuba, close to where Sandy intensified in the hours just before roaring ashore at the Mar Verde beach area as a powerful Category 2 storm with estimated 115 mph winds.
Jose Rubiera, head forecaster at Cuba’s Institute of Meteorology, called the damage “grave,” saying that Sandy had defied typical behavior as it crossed Cuba’s mountainous terrain.
“The curious thing is that Sandy scarcely weakened” as it crossed the Sierra Maestra, he said. At La Gran Piedra, a 63,000-ton boulder perched above the Caribbean just east of Santiago, he said wind gusts of up to 152 mph were recorded.
“The hurricane really hit us hard,” Norje Pupo, a 66-year-old retiree in Holguin told The Associated Press as he helped his son remove a downed tree in the garden. “As you can see, we were very affected. The houses are not poorly made here, but some may have been damaged.”
At the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, crews were cleaning up after Sandy took out the power, damaged some windows, took out a pier and damaged sailboats used by sailors.
In Haiti, government officials were still assessing damages, but information coming into the United Nations Stabilization Mission painted a grim picture in a country still reeling from Tropical Storm Isaac in August.
A second day of relentless rains brought down a bridge and a cholera treatment center, triggered landslides and flooded hospitals and homes. Some roadways remained impassable, leaving communities cut off.
In Jamaica, authorities reported downed trees and power lines, with roughly 70 percent of the island without power. At least one death was reported when a man was crushed by a boulder.
The storm’s aftermath may be most difficult for the island’s farmers. The agriculture ministry said early reports estimate more than half Jamaica’s banana sector was damaged.
Jack Bevan, a senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center, said Sandy surprised forecasters by quickly gaining power in the short crossing between Jamaica and Cuba, its sustained winds jumping 15 to 20 mph in the hours just before landfall in Cuba.
Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, posted a warning on his Twitter account:
“If you live on the U.S. East Coast, keep an eye on this storm.”