'Frankenstorm' Brewing as Sandy Heads to US East Coast After Killing 21 in the Caribbean
MIAMI — Hurricane Sandy lashed the Bahamas with heavy rains and high waves Friday on its path to pound the northeastern US as a powerful "Frankenstorm," after leaving 21 dead in the Caribbean.
Forecasters warned that the massive hurricane could collide with a seasonal "nor'easter" weather system as it churns northward parallel to the East Coast before swerving into the heavily populated mid-Atlantic just east of Washington early Tuesday.
The meteorologists said the combination of adverse weather conditions could affect the area through Halloween on October 31, "inviting perhaps a ghoulish nickname for the cyclone along the lines of 'Frankenstorm'."
The unusual storm was also on track to hit during the frenzied final week of campaigning before the November 6 US presidential vote.
White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters Thursday the president had asked for regular briefings on the storm's progress and was focused on "making sure that citizens in potentially affected areas are aware of it and taking the necessary precautions."
Carney declined to answer if the president's campaign travel would be affected, saying the storm's path was still uncertain.
The latest projection from the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center shows Sandy veering west to make landfall in southern Delaware, directly east of Washington and moving northwest across the region.
"It really may get dicey, but we aren't yet completely sure which of the two most likely scenarios is likeliest," wrote A. Camden Walker, Washington Post weather editor, on "the Capital Weather Gang" blog Friday.
"It has probably come down to either a significant impact from a storm hitting to the north, or even worse if it's closer. Stay tuned."
The Washington-area, notoriously prone to downed trees and days-long power failures after bad weather, was bracing for election week disruptions with utilities beefing up their power restoration crews.
In the latest bulletin at 1500 GMT, the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center placed the storm just north of Great Abaco Island, in the Bahamas, which was still bearing the brunt of the storm.
The Caribbean island chain reported power and phone lines downed, tourists stranded and trees uprooted. Schools, government offices, airports and bridges were to remain closed Friday.
The storm was downgraded late Thursday to a category one hurricane on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale, and the latest report has Sandy packing sustained winds of 80 miles (130 kilometers) per hour.
Although weakened, storm gusts and high waves were reported in south Florida as Sandy churned north.
Warnings about a possible "Frankenstorm" revived memories of the so-called "Perfect Storm" in 1991 that killed 13 people and caused $200 million in damage to the northeastern United States in late October and early November.
"The potential is there for a significant storm," WCNC-TV chief meteorologist Brad Panovich in Charlotte, North Carolina wrote on Facebook.
"This system is one part hurricane, one part nor'easter and one part blizzard, potentially. Impacts of all three types of storms are possible depending on location."
The National Weather Service in Philadelphia noted that the storm will be slow-moving, which "worsens the impact for coastal flooding as it will affect multiple high-tide cycles."
Also exacerbating the impact, it said, is the fact the storm is hitting during a full moon, when tides are typically already at their highest.
Sandy earlier claimed 11 lives in eastern Cuba, including several who died in the rubble of buildings that collapsed in the fury of the massive storm.
The hurricane damaged hundreds of homes, flooding crops and downing trees, according to media reports.
"It was terrible. Roofs were flying off lots of houses. Doors too, and windows," said Laquesis Bravo, 36, who lives outside the southeastern coastal city of Santiago de Cuba.
On Wednesday, Sandy unleashed its wrath on Jamaica, where one person died, and on Haiti, where 16 people died.
The hurricane also affected the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where 167 terror suspects are held. Preliminary hearings for the accused Al-Qaeda mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole were delayed.