US braced as hurricane hits Bahamas

Hurricane Sandy has raged through the Bahamas after leaving 39 people dead across the Caribbean, following a path that could see it blend with a winter storm to hit the US East Coast with a super-storm next week.

The hurricane knocked out power, flooded roads and cut off islands in the storm-hardened Bahamas as it charged through Cat Island and Eleuthera, with authorities reporting one death in the scattered archipelago.

Sandy, which weakened to a category 1 hurricane on Thursday night, caused havoc in Cuba earlier that day, killing 11 people in eastern Santiago and Guantanamo provinces as its howling winds and rain toppled 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 dollars (£1.5 billion) of damage. The death toll was still rising in impoverished Haiti, reaching 25 today 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 storm-swollen rivers. While the storm's centre missed the country as it passed on Wednesday, Haiti's ramshackle housing and denuded hillsides make it especially vulnerable to flood damage.

Officials at a morgue in the western town of Grand Goave said a mudslide crashed through a wooden home yesterday, killing 40-year-old Jacqueline Tatille and her four children, ranging in ages from five 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."

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 yesterday while trying to repair a window shutter.

Police in Puerto Rico said a man in his 50s was swept away today by a swollen river in the southern town of Juana Diaz, where rain from Sandy's outer bands has been steadily falling. Cuban authorities said the island's 11 dead included a four-month-old boy who was crushed when his home collapsed and an 84-year-old man in Santiago province. Near the city of Guantanamo, the Communist Party daily newspaper Granma reported two men were killed by falling trees.

Government officials in the Bahamas said the storm seems 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.