A driver manoeuvres his classic American car along a wet road as a wave crashes against the Malecon in Havana, Cuba
Hurricane Sandy lashed the central Bahamas on Thursday night with violent winds and torrential rains, after raging through the Caribbean where it caused at least 21 deaths and forced postponement of a hearing at the Guantanamo naval base on Cuba.
State media in Cuba said Sandy toppled houses, ripped off roofs and killed 11 people in the eastern provinces of Santiago and Guantanamo as it roared over the island as a Category 2 storm early Thursday. Nine deaths were reported in Haiti and one in Jamaica, reports The Associated Press.
Meanwhile, forecasters warned that Sandy will likely blend with a winter storm to cause a super storm in the eastern U.S. next week whose effects will be felt along the entire Atlantic Coast from Florida to Maine and inland to Ohio.
Some weakening in Sandy was forecast during the next 48 hours, but it was expected to remain a hurricane for a couple of days.
By Thursday evening, the hurricane's centre was about 105 miles (170 kilometres) east of the Bahamas capital of Nassau as it spun between Cat Island and Eleuthera in the central Bahamas. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (160 kph), down slightly from earlier in the day, and was moving north-northwest at 17 mph (27 kph).
Caroline Turnquest, head of the Red Cross in the Bahamas archipelago off Florida's east coast, said 20 shelters were opened on the main island of New Providence.
"Generally people are realizing it is serious," she said.
Power was out on Acklins Island and most roads there were flooded, government administrator Berkeley Williams said. He said his biggest concern was that a boat filled with basic supplies for the island had to cancel its trip until next week.
"Supplies were low before, so you can imagine what we are going through now," Williams said.
On Ragged Island in the southern Bahamas, the lone school was flooded. "We have holes in roofs, lost shingles and power lines are down," said Charlene Bain, local Red Cross president. "But nobody lost a life, that's the important thing."
Steven Russell, an emergency management official in Nassau, said that docks on the western side of Great Inagua island had been destroyed and that the roof of a government building was partially ripped off.
"As the storm passes over Eleuthera and Cat Island, they should get a pretty good beating," he said. "There are sections of Eleuthera we are concerned about."
The huge Atlantis resort went into lockdown after dozens of tourists left Paradise Island before the airport closed, said George Markantonis, president of Kerzner International, which manages the resort. He said the resort was now less than half full, but all its restaurants, casinos and other facilities were still operating.
Sooner Halvorson, a 36-year-old hotel owner from Colorado who recently moved to the Bahamas, said she and her husband, Matt, expected to ride out the storm with their two young children, three cats, two dogs and a goat at their Cat Island resort.
"We brought all of our animals inside," she said, though she added that a horse stayed outside. "She's a 40-year-old horse from the island. She's been through tons of hurricanes."
On Great Exuma island, guest house operator Veronica Marshall supplied her only customer with a flashlight and some food before Sandy bore down. The storm-hardened Bahamian said she was confident that she and her business would make it through intact.
"I'm 73 years old and I've weathered many storms," she said.