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Cuba: Hurricane Sandy leaves destruction in its wake (+video)

Hurricane Sandy knocked down trees, clogged streets and killed at least three people in the Caribbean. The storm is expected to hit the U.S. East Coast over the weekend and into next week. Flooding, high winds and downed trees are of concern.  

By Jeff FranksReuters / October 25, 2012

A driver maneuvers his car along a wet road as a wave crashes against the Malecon in Havana, Cuba. Hurricane Sandy blasted across eastern Cuba on Thursday as a potent Category 2 storm.

AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa

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HAVANA

Hurricane Sandy swelled into a major threat to much of the U.S. East Coast on Thursday after lashing Cuba with heavy rains and tree-toppling winds and swirling through the Bahamas, U.S. forecasters said.

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Hurricane Sandy left downed powerlines in Jamaica as she prepared to take aim at the central Bahama with maximum sustained winds of 105 miles per hour.

Strengthening rapidly after tearing into Jamaica and crossing the warm Caribbean Sea, Sandy hit southeastern Cuba early on Thursday with top sustained winds up to 110 miles per hour (177 kph) that left a trail of destruction, especially in the historic city of Santiago de Cuba.

Images on Cuban television showed downed trees, damaged buildings and debris-clogged streets in the communist-ruled island's second largest city, which suffered a direct hit when the storm came ashore in the early morning hours.

"Everything's destroyed in Santiago. People are going to have to work very hard to recover," Alexis Manduley, a resident of the 498-year-old city, told Reuters by telephone.

According to one Cuban radio report from the city of 500,000 people, about 470 miles (750 km) southeast of Havana, at least one person was killed in Santiago, bringing the Sandy-related death toll to at least three, including fatalities in Jamaica and Haiti.

U.S. government forecasters warned that much of the U.S. East Coast could get swiped by Sandy, with flooding, heavy rains and high winds beginning late Thursday in Florida. By early next week - amid final preparations for the crucial Nov. 6 presidential election - the storm could hit an area of New England where Hurricane Irene caused severe damage last year.

White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to speculate about whether there would be any change in President Barack Obama's campaign travel schedule because of Sandy, as he makes a last-minute blitz to win an edge over Republican Mitt Romney in a close race.

"The president's concern about this storm is to make sure that citizens in potentially affected areas are aware of this and taking necessary precaution," Carney said.

He spoke aboard Air Force One as Obama headed from Florida to Virginia, saying the president had asked his team to hold regular briefings with federal disaster officials as the storm progresses.

Forecasters said the hardest-hit areas could span anywhere from the coastal Carolinas up to Maine, with New York City and the Boston area potentially in harm's way.

"Regardless of the exact track of Sandy, it is likely that significant impacts will be felt over portions of the U.S. East Coast through the weekend and into early next week," the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center said. 

"Frankenstorm"

"It's going to be a high-impact event," said Bob Oravec, a lead forecaster with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's HydroMeteorological Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland.

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