Hurricane Sandy has hit Cuba after lashing shanty towns, stranding travellers and downing power lines across Jamaica.
Sandy made landfall just west of Santiago de Cuba in southern Cuba, and the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said it had maximum sustained winds of 114mph. The storm, which packed heavy wind and rain as it roared across Jamaica, could go on to threaten the Bahamas and possibly Florida.
Sandy's death toll so far is at least two. An elderly man was killed in Jamaica when he was crushed by a boulder that rolled on to his clapboard house, and a woman in Haiti was swept away by a rushing river.
The storm hit Jamaica as a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum sustained winds of 90mph, then strengthened as it spun over open sea towards Cuba. 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.
The hurricane's eye crossed over Jamaica and emerged from its northern coast near the town of Port Antonio, meteorologists said, but rain and wind continued to pound the Caribbean island.
It was the first direct hit by the eye of a hurricane on Jamaica since 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 east of the capital Kingston.
Flash floods and mudslides were a threat for the debt-ridden tropical island of about 2.7 million inhabitants, which has a crumbling infrastructure and a number of sprawling shanty towns built on steep embankments and along gullies that sluice run-off water to the sea.
In Cuba, authorities issued a hurricane warning for several provinces in the east and the Bahamas posted a similar alert for its south-eastern Ragged Islands and the central and north-western Bahamas, where the storm was predicted to pass tonight and tomorrow.
Forecasters at the US National Hurricane Centre said tropical storm conditions are possible along the south-eastern Florida coast, the Upper Keys and Florida Bay by Friday. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the area.
In south-western Haiti, a woman died in Camp Perrin after she was swept away by a river she was trying to cross. There were reports of extensive damage to Port Salut on Haiti's far south-western coast after a river burst its banks. Mayor Larock Pierre Clervert said a hotel was destroyed by floodwaters.