by Staff Writers
Miami (AFP) Oct 24, 2012
The crowded Jamaican capital took a direct hit Wednesday from Hurricane Sandy as hundreds took refuge in emergency shelters and poor slum dwellers in Kingston's sprawling shantytowns hunkered down.
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson cut short a visit to Canada and rushed home before the island's international airports closed and as police ordered a 48-hour curfew in major towns for safety and to deter looters.
"We now have over 437 persons in emergency shelters though those numbers could be higher at this time," Ronald Jackson, head of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM), told the Jamaica Observer.
The eye of Sandy made landfall five miles (seven kilometers) south of Kingston -- home to one million of Jamaica's 2.7 million inhabitants -- at 3:00 pm local time (1900 GMT), packing sustained winds of 80 miles per hour.
The storm was moving north at 14 miles per hour, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center, which warned that the situation in Jamaica was deteriorating and Sandy could strengthen further.
Jamaican officials had issued mandatory evacuation orders late Tuesday for at-risk communities in low-lying coastal areas of the Caribbean nation.
Hurricane conditions were expected in eastern Cuba later Wednesday before Sandy heads over the Bahamas on Thursday and Friday, according to the NHC. Tropical storm conditions were also forecast for Florida's east coast.
Tropical Storm Gustav, which was less powerful than Hurricane Sandy with sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, killed seven people in Jamaica in 2008.
Hurricane Ivan, a maximum category five on the Saffir-Simpson scale and the sixth most intense Atlantic hurricane on record, killed 17 people and left 18,000 homeless when it smashed into Jamaica in September 2004.
In Cuba, authorities have issued a hurricane warning for more than half the country, including the US naval base at Guantanamo where terror suspects are held.
In 2008, Cuba was hit by three hurricanes that caused a total of $10 billion in damage and affected more than half a million homes.
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