KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — 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 go on to threaten the Bahamas and possibly 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 (150 kph) late Wednesday and might grow into a category 2 storm before going ashore. It was moving north at about 13 mph (20 kph) and hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.
In some southern towns on Jamaica, a few 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 over Jamaica by Wednesday evening and emerged from its northern coast near the town of Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rain and winds continued to pound the Caribbean island into the night.
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 five miles (8 kilometers) east of the capital, Kingston.
Flash floods and mudslides were a threat for this debt-shackled tropical island of roughly 2.7 million inhabitants, which has a crumbling infrastructure and a number of sprawling shantytowns built on steep embankments and along gullies that sluice runoff water to the sea.
In the hilly community of Kintyre, on the outskirts of Kingston, Sharon Gayle and a few of her neighbors expected to completely 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. The shell of a concrete home that collapsed into the river and killed two people several years ago still lies toppled on the sandy banks.
"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 18th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season was expected to pass over eastern Cuba early Thursday, missing the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where pretrial hearings were being held for a suspect in the deadly 2000 attack on the destroyer USS Cole off Yemen.
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 Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.
Forecasters at the U.S. 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.
In southwestern Haiti, a woman died in the town of Camp Perrin after she was swept away by a river she was trying to cross, said Marie Alta Jean-Baptiste, head of the country's civil protection office. There were reports of extensive damage to Port Salut on Haiti's far-southwestern coast after a river burst its banks. Mayor Larock Pierre Clervert said a hotel was destroyed by flood waters.
Across Jamaica, the poor in slums and moneyed residents in gated communities hunkered down at home as powerful winds shrieked around buildings and sent sheets of rain sideways. Many homes were lit by candlelight and lanterns since tens of thousands of power utility customers were without electricity.
Stranded business travelers and a smattering of locals rode out the Category 1 hurricane in hotels clustered along a strip in Kingston's financial district. Some read prayer books or novels, while others watched movies or communicated with loved ones on computers.
Cris Hopkinson, a Toronto woman who was on a business trip, said she hoped to catch a flight off the island Friday once the stormy weather cleared.
"For now, I'm just hoping that the glass in the windows doesn't shatter from the winds," Hopkinson said in the dining room of the Courtleigh Hotel.
About a mile away in the rough neighborhood of Grants Pen, where shops have been ransacked in the past during storms, a number of young men ignored the curfew, riding on bicycles or walking in small groups in the steady rain.
Cecile Graham, a mother of two teenagers, said she was worried about the possibility of burglaries or looting at the small markets and shops that line the main road.
"I hope that all the police are out and we won't have the looting that has taken place before," she said.
Police slowly drove through drenched communities in the coastal capital with their cruisers' lights flashing. A senior police superintendent was shot in troubled West Kingston, but the circumstances were murky.
The storm was predicted to drop as much as 12 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. Sea water washed over the streets of southern coastal towns like Port Royal, a depressed fishing village at the tip of a spit of land near Kingston's airport.
Airports in Kingston and Montego Bay shut down for the day 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. Other cruise lines also rerouted ships from port calls to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.
Far out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Tony posed no threat to land. The storm had maximum sustained winds of about 50 mph (85 kph) and was moving east-northeast at 23 mph (37 kph). Its center was 935 miles (1,505 kilometers) west-southwest of the Azores.
Associated Press writers Evens Sanon in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Howard Campbell in Kingston, Jamaica, contributed to this report.