Jamaicans hunkered down at home as Tropical Storm Sandy buffeted the Caribbean island with pelting rain and howling winds early Wednesday and forecasters said it was likely to hit as a hurricane.
The island's international airports prepared to close, cruise ships changed their itineraries and police ordered 48-hour curfews in major towns to keep people off the streets and deter looting as the late-season storm neared Jamaica's south coast.
The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was forecast to pass over Jamaica and then spin on into eastern Cuba by Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. It was expected to pass west of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings are being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.
Across Jamaica, poor people in ramshackle shantytowns and moneyed residents in gated communities were jittery about Sandy's approach. Many sections of the debt-shackled country have crumbling infrastructure, and a lack of building codes has resulted in some middle-class homes and tin-roofed shacks being built close to steep embankments and gullies.
Dangerous flash floods and mudslides set off by Sandy were a threat for the island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, Jamaica's meteorological service said.
In the hilly community of Kintyre, near the capital of Kingston, Sharon Gayle and a few of her drenched neighbors expected to 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.
"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 storm was predicted to drop as much as 10 inches (25 centimeters) of rain, especially over central and eastern parts of Jamaica, the country's meteorological service said. Some isolated spots could see as much as 20 inches (50 centimeters), according to U.S. forecasters. Battering waves and a strong storm surge were also forecast.
Airports in Kingston and were scheduled to close Wednesday morning and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced that its Allure of the Seas megaship would not stop at Jamaica's northern Falmouth terminal on Wednesday, remaining at sea instead.
To deter looters and other criminals, Deputy Police Commissioner Glenmore Hinds warned that police "will react swiftly to protect life and property."
In Cuba, authorities issued a hurricane watch for several provinces and there were intermittent rains over Haiti, where a tropical storm warning was in effect. A tropical storm watch was also posted for parts of the Bahamas, where the storm was predicted to pass Thursday.
Although Florida was not expected to receive any direct impact from Sandy, Brian Koon, director of the U.S. state's emergency management division, said residents should remain aware of the storm and take precautions to keep themselves safe from indirect impacts including rip currents.
Around dawn Wednesday, Sandy had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph) and was centered 95 miles (155 kilometers) south-southwest of Kingston. It was moving north at 14 mph (22 kph).
Meanwhile, U.S. forecasters said Tropical Storm Tony had formed over the open Atlantic, but posed no threat to land. The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 45 mph (75 kph) and it was moving east-northeast at 16 mph (26 kph). Its center was 1,415 miles (2,275 kilometers) west-southwest of the Azores.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.