NASSAU, Bahamas — Hurricane Sandy rolled out of the Bahamas on Friday after causing 40 deaths across the Caribbean, churning toward the U.S. East Coast, where it threatens to join forces with winter weather fronts to create a devastating super storm.
The Category 1 hurricane toppled light posts, flooded roads and tore off tree branches as it spun through Cat Island and Eleuthera in the scattered Bahamas archipelago, with authorities reporting one man killed, the British CEO of an investment bank.
The death toll was still rising in impoverished Haiti, reaching 26 on Friday as word of disasters reached officials and rain continued to fall.
Joseph Edgard Celestin, a spokesman for Haiti’s civil protection office, said some people died trying to cross rivers swollen by rains from Sandy’s outer reaches. While the storm’s center missed the country as it passed by Wednesday, Haiti’s ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides make it especially vulnerable to flooding.
Officials at a morgue in the western town of Grand Goave said a mudslide crashed through a wooden home Thursday, killing 40-year-old Jacqueline Tatille and her four children, ranging in ages from 5 to 17.
“If the rain continues, for sure we’ll have more people die,” said morgue deputy Joseph Franck Laporte. “The earth cannot hold the rain.”
Officials reported flooding across Haiti, where 370,000 people are still living in flimsy shelters as a result of the devastating 2010 earthquake. Nearly 17,800 people had to move to 131 temporary shelters, the Civil Protection Office said.
Sandy was a Category 2 hurricane when it wreaked havoc in Cuba on Thursday, killing 11 people in eastern Santiago and Guantanamo provinces as its howling winds and rain destroyed thousands of houses and ripped off roofs. Authorities said it was Cuba’s deadliest storm since July 2005, when category 5 Hurricane Dennis killed 16 people and caused $2.4 billion in damage.
Cuban authorities said the island’s 11 dead included a 4-month-old boy who was crushed when his home collapsed and an 84-year-old man in Santiago province. Near the city of Guantanamo, two men were killed by falling trees, the Communist Party newspaper Granma reported.
Official news media reported Friday that the storm caused 5,000 houses to at least partially collapse while ripping the roofs off 30,000 others. Banana, coffee, bean and sugar crops were damaged.
Sandy also killed a man in Jamaica on Wednesday when a boulder crashed through his house, and police in the Bahamas said a 66-year-old man died after falling from his roof in upscale Lyford Cay late Thursday while trying to repair a window shutter. Officials at Deltec Bank & Trust identified him as Timothy Fraser-Smith, who became CEO in 2000.
One death was reported in Puerto Rico. Police said a man in his 50s was swept away Friday by a swollen river in the southern town of Juana Diaz, where rain from Sandy’s outer bands has been steadily falling.
Friday evening, Sandy was about 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Great Abaco Island in the Bahamas and 400 miles (645 kilometers) south-southeast of Charleston, South Carolina. It was barely still a hurricane, with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph (120 kph) and was moving north at 7 mph (11 kph).
With the storm projected to hit the U.S. Atlantic Coast early Tuesday, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warned it could merge with two other systems to become a hybrid, monster storm.
Government officials in the Bahamas said the storm seemed to have inflicted the greatest damage on Cat Island, which took a direct hit, and Exuma, where there were reports of downed trees, power lines and damage to homes.
“I hope that’s it for the year,” said Veronica Marshall, a 73-year-old hotel owner in Great Exuma. “I thought we would be going into the night, but around 3 o’clock it all died down. I was very happy about that.”
On Long Island, farmers lost most of their crops and several roofs were torn off, legislator Loretta Butler-Turner said. The island was without power and many residents did not have access to fresh water, she said.
Power also was out on Acklins Island and most roads there were flooded, while the lone school on Ragged Island in the southern Bahamas was flooded.
Russell, the emergency management official in Nassau, said docks on the western side of Great Inagua island had been destroyed and the roof of a government building was partially ripped off.
Jennifer Savoie, a New Orleans native who lives in Eleuthera, said her fiance’s resort, The Cove Eleuthera, was spared major damage but that power is out across most of the island.
“We know the protocol and how to prepare,” she said. “It’s in our blood. We were hit pretty hard though.”