"The hurricane really hit us hard," Norje Pupo, a 66-year-old retiree in Holguin told The Associated Press as he helped his son remove a downed tree in the garden. "As you can see, we were very affected. The houses are not poorly made here, but some may have been damaged."
Cuba's Civil Defense said damages were being assessed in the three hardest hit provinces -- Santiago de Cuba, Holguin and Guantanamo -- and that vital services would be reestablished as soon as possible. Radio Rebelde, the state-controlled station, reported that President Raul Castro expected to visit the hard-hit region soon. Castro said he sent a "message of hope to Santiagueros" and asked residents to "have confidence in the Revolution because it won't leave anyone abandoned."
At the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo, crews were cleaning up after Sandy took out the power, damaged some windows, took out a pier and damaged sailboats used by sailors.
In Haiti, government officials were still assessing damages but information coming into the United Nations Stabilization Mission painted a grim picture in a country still reeling from Tropical Storm Isaac in August.
A second day of relentless rains brought down a bridge and a cholera treatment center, triggered landslides and flooded hospitals and homes. Some roadways remained impassable, leaving communities cut off.
Edgard Celestin, a spokesman for the disaster office, reported a sharp increase in the death toll from two on Wednesday. Overall, nine people have died in Haiti: five in the hard-hit southern region, three in the west and one in Grand Anse.
In Jamaica, authorities reported downed trees and power lines and half the island was without power. At least one death was reported on the island, a man crushed by a boulder.
Jack Bevan, a senior hurricane specialist at the NHC, said Sandy surprised forecasters by quickly gaining power in the short crossing between Jamaica and Cuba, its sustained winds jumping 15 to 20 mph in the hours just before landfall in Cuba. Such rapid intensifications remain difficult to predict, he said, and it happened despite Sandy crossing mountainous Jamaica and enduring increasing wind shear that frequently weakens storms.
Bevan, who wrote the NHC advisory as Sandy neared Cuba, had cautioned that Sandy could intensify -- but it "strengthened significantly faster than we thought."
IN SOUTH FLORIDA
Sandy's pounding waves continued to erode beaches along much of the coast and gusts of 40-mph-plus winds began causing some minor power outages in South Florida Thursday evening. But forecasters expect conditions to begin easing late Friday as Sandy leaves the Bahamas and begins to veer off the Florida coast. The National Weather Service's Miami office predicts breezy but sunny weather for the weekend.
As winds drop in South Florida, however, there is increasing concern about the damage Sandy will inflict farther north when it reaches the Mid-Atlantic states, where it will meet frigid air shooting down from Canada and a winter storm sweeping to the east. Many meteorologists expect the systems to blend into a broad, messy monster that could bring 70 mph winds, extreme flooding tides, freezing rain and maybe even snow along much of the East Coast.
The center of the NHC's track brings the remnants of Sandy to the New Jersey coast sometime Tuesday, a day before Halloween, but Bevan said anywhere from the coast of Virginia to Nova Scotia was potentially at risk.
"Even if it stays offshore, it's got such a gigantic wind field that there are going to be widespread impacts," he said.
Craig Fugate, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, posted a caution on his Twitter account:
"If you live on the U.S. East Coast, keep an eye on this storm."
Miami Herald staff writer Carol Rosenberg reported from Guantanamo and staff writer Jacqueline Charles reported from Port-au-Prince. Staff writers Elinor Brecher and Charles Rabin also contributed to this story. Curtis Morgan and Mimi Whitefield are based in Miami.
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