KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Hurricane Sandy carved into the populous southeastern coast of Jamaica yesterday, stranding travelers and hammering shantytowns with howling winds and rains as it roared across the island on a track that would take it on to Cuba and possibly Florida.
At least one person was killed in nearby Haiti after being swept away by a rushing river.
It was the first direct hit by the eye of a hurricane on Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, and fearful 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 yesterday afternoon roughly five miles east of the capital of Kingston.
Police drove slowly through drenched communities under curfew in the coastal capital with their cruisers' lights flashing. A senior police superintendent was shot in troubled West Kingston, but the circumstances were murky.
Dangerous flash floods and mudslides were a threat for the tropical island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, especially in mountainous areas, Jamaica's meteorological service said.
In the hilly community of Kintyre, on the outskirts of Kingston, Sharon Gayle and a few of her neighbors expected to completely 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, huddling under a sopping white towel as she stared at the rising river.
The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass over eastern Cuba early Thursday, missing the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo Bay, where pretrial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.
Forecasters at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said tropical storm conditions were possible along the southeastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by Friday morning. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the area, the center said.