Sandy kills 11 in Cuba, batters Bahamas

Posted at 7:57 AM, Oct 26, 2012

By Mariano Castillo and Steve Almasy, CNN

(CNN) — Eleven people died as Hurricane Sandy pummeled Cuba on Thursday, state media reported.

Nine deaths occurred in Santiago de Cuba province and two bodies were recovered in Guantanamo state, national media reported, citing civil defense authorities.

Cuban President Raul Castro will travel Friday to Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city, to survey the damage.

More than 3,000 buildings were damaged in eastern Cuba, state television reported.

“I lost an upstairs room and part of my roof. There are trees down all over the place. Everyone is in shock. We have never had a storm hit like this,” said a woman named Dulce, a doctor in the city of Santiago.

Residents in Santiago spent Thursday assessing the extent of the damage. There was no electricity, and very few people had working phones, Dulce said.

Heavy rain in Cuba brings with it potential health risks. Flooding over the summer in Granma province contaminated wells, leading to a cholera outbreak, the first Cuba had experienced in a century. The same province was hit hard by Sandy.

In the Bahamas, as Olivia Jorjani and her mother were trying to watch the World Series game between power outages, tree branches in Nassau started to break and fall, and parking lots began to flood.

It was just a matter of time before the lights went out again, and “then we will play gin by candlelight,” the iReporter said from her home on New Providence Island.

Bahamians and their guests hunkered down Thursday night as Sandy, a Category 2 hurricane, tore through the islands with 100 mph wind and the potential for up to 12 inches of rain.

New Yorker John Trudden was staying at Club Med on San Salvador Island, celebrating a friend’s birthday with 10 buddies.

He said they will be confined to the hotel, which gave them food and drink to take to their rooms, until 8 a.m. Friday, when officials expect most of the storm to have passed over.

Before Sandy arrived, Nassau resident Stephan Rolle wasn’t overly worried.

It is a “small storm” with “mediocre wind,” he said.

Rolle, 29, waited for 40 minutes in line at a grocery store to purchase nonperishable goods and bread. He moved the potted plants and emptied part of his family’s pool to make room for the rainwater.

Sandy may not be a Category 5 monster, but “we take it seriously, and we just want to make sure we are comfortable,” he said.

As of 8 p.m. ET, the eye of the storm was 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of Nassau, sparing the Bahamas’ largest city the worst part of the storm.

“I don’t think that it’s going to do significant damage. Think there could be some debris, but in Nassau things are not as bad as they may be in the outer islands,” CNN iReporter Cynthia Russell, an administration manager, said.

Along the U.S. East Coast, residents were told to be wary headed into the weekend.

CNN meteorologist and severe weather expert Chad Myers said Sandy could have a bigger impact than Irene did last year, when it glanced off North Carolina before plowing into the Northeast.

“This could be like the ‘Perfect Storm’ 21 years ago,” he said of the potential damage. “It depends on where it hits.”

The “Perfect Storm” was the result of a nor’easter and Hurricane Grace combining into a one storm. In this case, a system approaching from the west is expected to interact with Sandy. To what extent is the question to be answered in the next four days.

For now, Sandy is proving to be a windfall for surfers familiar with tamer tides. Even hundreds of miles away, the storm kicked up powerful surf off Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Jason Russo, a visitor from Connecticut, couldn’t resist jumping in.

“I went in the water, I did about three somersaults … strong rip current,” he told CNN affiliate WSVN.

Fort Lauderdale’s Ocean Rescue advised beachgoers to stay out of the water, but acknowledged not everyone would heed the warning.

“The expert surfers will be out there, so we just tell them to be careful, and we’re there if they need our help,” Chief Breck Ballou said. “We’re there to go out and get them.”

On Friday, more high waves and rip currents are likely along the coastal beaches of Florida’s east coast and into southern Georgia, as well as tropical storm force wind gusts up to 50 mph.

Saturday, tropical storm force wind gusts reaching 50 mph might be felt as far north as the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Rip currents and high waves will also be an issue along coastal Georgia and the Carolinas, with significant coastal flooding possible, especially during high tides.

The five-day forecast from the National Hurricane Center predicts the center of the storm will shadow the East Coast in the coming days, with Sandy potentially making landfall as a tropical storm in New Jersey the day before Halloween.

Sandy also claimed two lives before reaching Cuba.

A woman in western Haiti’s Camp-Perrin died Wednesday when she tried to cross a flooding river in the Ravine du Sud, according to Haitian news agency AHP.

And CNN affiliate TV J reported a man in Jamaica was killed when he was hit by a boulder sent tumbling downhill by the storm’s rain.

In the Dominican Republic, Misael Rincon, a CNN iReporter, couldn’t sleep as Sandy’s rain beat down on Santo Domingo because he knew his neighborhood is prone to flooding.

He drove to work on Thursday but had to change his route several times as he encountered roads with water levels too high. Even though he drives an SUV, a blue Ford Explorer, he was not high enough off the ground to avoid having water seep into his vehicle.

“I’d say 70% of the streets in Santo Domingo are flooded,” he said.

Some cars were submerged, and people with trucks were charging motorists $5 to pull their vehicles to higher ground, he said. There were some good Samaritans, too.

The government ordered evacuations of high-risk zones and canceled schools.

CNN’s Sean Morris, Patrick Oppmann and Ed Payne and journalist Diulka Perez contributed to this report.