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21 dead from Sandy

NASSAU — Hurricane Sandy pounded the Bahamas with battering winds and rain today, sweeping over the island chain after killing 21 people across the Caribbean and posing a menacing threat to the US East Coast.

Forecasters warned the late-season storm is expected to combine with a polar air mass near the United States next week, potentially producing a highly unusual and potent storm that could wreak havoc along the US East Coast.

The US National Hurricane Centre early today issued tropical storm warnings for much of the Florida coast and tropical storm watches up through much of North Carolina.

Late yesterday, Sandy weakened to a Category 1 storm as it tore though sparsely populated low-lying southeastern islands in the Bahamas, knocking out power and blowing off rooftops of some homes.

Sandy’s torrential rains and heavy winds were blamed for the deaths of 21 people. The Cuban government said last night that 11 people died when the storm barrelled across the island, most killed by falling trees or in building collapses in Santiago de Cuba province and neighbouring Guantanamo province.

Haiti’s civil protection office said nine people died even though the country did not suffer a direct hit from Sandy, and one person was killed by falling rocks in Jamaica when the storm struck there on Wednesday.

The Cuban deaths were an unusually high number for the communist island which prides itself on protecting its people from storms by ordering mass evacuations.

Winds and rains generated by Sandy were also being felt in south Florida.

Sandy remained a Category 1 hurricane as it continued to move over the Bahamas today, sending swirling rains and winds across several hundred miles.

In the Bahamas, government officials warned residents to stay indoors until the storm passed. There were no immediate reports of casualties or serious injuries. (Reuters)

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