KINGSTON, Jamaica — Hurricane Sandy lashed precarious shantytowns, stranded travelers and downed power lines with heavy wind and rain Wednesday as it roared across Jamaica and then headed for an overnight landfall in eastern Cuba and on to threaten the Bahamas and possibly southeastern Florida.
Sandy's death toll was at least two. An elderly man was killed in Jamaica when he was crushed by a boulder that rolled onto his clapboard house, police reported. Earlier Wednesday, a woman in Haiti was swept away by a rushing river she was trying to cross.
The storm hit Jamaica as a category 1 hurricane then strengthened as it spun over open sea toward Cuba. U.S. forecasters said it had maximum sustained winds of 90 mph late Wednesday and might grow into a category 2 storm before going ashore. It was moving north about 13 mph.
In some southern towns on Jamaica, crocodiles were caught in rushing floodwaters that carried them out of their homes in mangrove thickets, showing up in districts where electricity was knocked out, local residents reported. One big croc took up temporary residence in a family's front yard in the city of Portmore.
The hurricane's eye crossed Jamaica by Wednesday evening and emerged from its northern coast near Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rain and winds continued to pound the Caribbean island into the night.
Stranded business travelers and locals rode out the hurricane in hotels clustered along a strip in Kingston's financial district.
It was the first direct hit by the eye of a hurricane on Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert 24 years ago, 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 5 miles east of the capital, Kingston.
Flash floods and mudslides were a threat for this tropical island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, which has a crumbling infrastructure and sprawling shantytowns built on steep embankments and along gullies that sluice runoff water to the sea.
The 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass over eastern Cuba early today, missing the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Cuban authorities issued a hurricane warning for several provinces in the east, and the Bahamas posted a similar alert for its southeastern Ragged Islands and the central and northwestern Bahamas, where the storm was predicted to pass this afternoon and Friday morning.
Forecasters at the 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.