Across the country, curfews were imposed in rough slums and business centers, including the New Kingston financial district and the resort town of Montego Bay.
To deter looters and other criminals, Deputy Police Commissioner Glenmore Hinds warned that police "will react swiftly to protect life and property." Outside its placid tourist resorts, the island has long struggled with high crime and gang violence.
Elsewhere, the government of Cuba issued a hurricane warning for much of eastern Cuba including Guantánamo. Tropical storm warnings were posted for Haiti and the Central and Southeastern Bahamas, where Sandy was bound for by Thursday.
Though its “dirty side” and strongest winds will be well out to sea, forecasters said South Florida also will feel at least some ripple effect from the storm, with the impact depending on how large Sandy’s wind field grows and how close it tracks to South Florida.
From there, Sandy’s future is less certain, said hurricane center forecaster Todd Kimberlain, with computer models at the moment split on whether it turns harmlessly out into the cooler Atlantic as a broad “extra-tropical” storm or veers more toward the upper East Coast as a major and potentially damaging “nor’easter” storm. The official track calls for the path out into the Atlantic.
Jamaica hasn’t been hit directly by a hurricane since Gilbert in 1988 but the island has endured a string of damaging and deadly strikes over the last decade, including a battering close call from Ivan in 2004 and impacts from tropical storms in 2007, 2008 and 2010.
Sandy’s projected track across the middle of the island could expose the waterfront capital city to damaging storm surge and the government ordered a mandatory evacuation of residents in many low-lying areas. The island’s two major airports were also ordered closed by Wednesday morning. Jamaica’s Meteorological Service also advised fishermen on Pedro Cays, small islands off the southern coast, to evacuate but the warnings were ignored by many.
In Haiti, puddles were already developing in the streets of flood-prone Les Cayes but the government wasn’t yet anticipating ordering the large-scale evacuations conducted during Tropical Storm Isaac.
Rain was expected across much of the country, including in rural communities in the northwest, where the ground is already saturated and more rain could isolate communities and ruin crops.
Edgar Celestin, a spokesman with Haiti’s Office of Civil Protection, said the operations center would be activated Wednesday.
Tropical Storm Tony also formed late Wednesday in the mid-Atlantic. The 19th named storm of the year posed no threat to land but tied 2012 with four other years — 2011, 2010, 1995 and 1887 — for the third-most named storms on record.
Miami Herald correspondent Daraine Luton reported from Kingston and Miami Herald staff writer Jacqueline Charles reported from Port-au-Prince. This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.