The Caribbean death toll from Hurricane Sandy rose again sharply on Saturday, even as the storm swirled away toward the Eastern Seaboard. Officials said the hurricane system has cost at least 58 lives in addition to destroying or badly damaging thousands of homes.
On its current projected track, Sandy could make U.S. landfall on Monday night or Tuesday anywhere between Maryland and southern New England, forecasters said. Rain accumulations of up to 30 cm and heavy snowfall inland are considered likely in some areas.
While Jamaica, Cuba and the Bahamas took direct hits from the storm, the majority of deaths and most extensive damage was in impoverished Haiti, where it has rained almost non-stop since Tuesday.
The official death toll in Haiti stood at 44 Saturday, but authorities said that could still rise. The country's ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides are especially vulnerable to flooding when rains come.
“This is a disaster of major proportions,” Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe told The Associated Press. “The whole south is under water.”
He said the death toll jumped on Saturday because it was the first day that authorities were able to go out and assess the damage, which he estimated was in the hundreds of millions of dollars, the bulk of it in lost crops.
Nineteen people are reported injured and another 12 are missing, he said.
One of the remaining threats was a still-rising muddy river in the northern part of the capital, Port-au-Prince.
“If the river busts its banks, it's going to create a lot of problems. It might kill a lot of people,” said 51-year-old Seroine Pierre. “If death comes, we'll accept it. We're suffering, we're hungry, and we're just going to die hungry.”
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.
Among those hoping for a dry place to stay was 35-year-old Iliodor Derisma in Port-au-Prince, who said the storm had caused a lot of anguish.
“It's wet all my clothes, and all the children aren't living well,” he said. “We're hungry. We haven't received any food. If we had a shelter, that would be nice.”
Sandy left dozens of families homeless when it barreled across Jamaica Wednesday as a Category 1 hurricane. One man was crushed to death by a boulder that tumbled into his house. Military officials on Saturday were carrying supplies and doctors to five communities in the southern mountainous region that had been cut off by floods.
The storm hit eastern Cuba as a Category 2 hurricane early Thursday. Eleven people died in Santiago and Guantanamo provinces and official news media said the storm caused 5,000 houses to at least partially collapse while 30,000 others lost roofs. Banana, coffee, bean and sugar crops were damaged.
The storm then churned into the Bahamas archipelago, toppling light posts, flooding roads and ripping down tree branches. Police said the British CEO of an investment bank died when he fell 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.
In Puerto Rico, police said a man in his 50s died Friday in the southern town of Juana Diaz, swept away in a river swollen by rain from Sandy's outer bands. Flooding forced at least 100 families in southwestern Puerto Rico to seek shelter.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic evacuated more than 18,100 people after the storm destroyed several bridges and isolated at least 130 communities. Heavy rains and wind also damaged an estimated 3,500 homes.
America's National Hurricane Center in Miami said Saturday morning that a Hurricane Hunter aircraft found Sandy had sustained winds powerful enough to upgrade it to a Category 1 hurricane. It had been downgraded to a tropical storm just hours earlier.
Regardless of its official category, Sandy is expected to be a monstrous storm that poses a serious threat for the entire Eastern Seaboard.
Hurricane Sandy is making a slow path toward the northeast coast from the Bahamas, where it threatens to become one of the worst storms in decades.
The late-season storm has been dubbed “Frankenstorm” by some weather watchers because it will combine elements of a tropical cyclone and a winter storm and is forecast to reach the U.S. coast close to Halloween.
Forecast models show it will have all the ingredients to morph into a so-called “super storm,” stirring memories of the 1993 “Storm of the Century,” whose impact in the United States was particularly destructive.
Forecasters in Canada are warning that hurricane Sandy is so big, her reach will be felt from southern Ontario to the Maritimes.
The Canadian Hurricane Centre in Halifax Friday said meteorologists wanted to issue early warnings because the storm is so huge.
“Everyone in the Maritimes, certainly everyone is southern Quebec and eastern and southern Ontario should be monitoring this storm,” spokesman Bob Robichaud said.
“I know it’s a big area but it speaks to the size of this storm. The storm will be a very huge storm by the time it gets close to here ... It’s getting a lot of attention and deservedly so.”
Mr. Robichaud said it was too early to predict the strength of the winds or rainfall amounts for Canadian territory, but he said the latest computer models suggest powerful gusts and heavy downpours are on the way for Monday and Tuesday.
He said southwestern Nova Scotia was expected to see the worst of the storm, but that prediction could change in the days ahead, particularly if Sandy heads farther south.
Typically, large hurricanes such as Sandy have been known to race up the coast and clip the edges of the Maritimes and Newfoundland, causing sporadic damage.
But this storm is different.
A large, high-pressure system over the Maritimes is expected to block Sandy’s advance, pushing it into the mid-Atlantic states on late Monday or early Tuesday. The storm is also being fed by a trough of low pressure in the U.S. Midwest.
Mr. Robichaud warned the complex interaction of these three weather systems has produced an unusually scattered set of track forecasts. That means the predicting the progress of the storm has been more difficult that usual.
With a report from The Canadian Press and Associated Press