Tropical Storm Sandy Strengthens to Hurricane, Nears Jamaica

Tropical Storm Sandy has strengthened to a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 80 mph. The center of Sandy is expected to move over eastern Jamaica in the afternoon and evening.

A hurricane watch is in effect for the Central and Northwestern Bahamas and a tropical storm warning is in effect for Haiti, the Florida east coast and Upper Keys.

The National Weather Service reported that gusts of over 60 mph over the Atlantic waters from Miami to West Palm Beach were expected late Thursday through Friday night. It also warned of dangerous rip currents at Atlantic beaches.

Though the potential impact from tropical cyclone winds may be low, the service said preparations should be made for the threat of minor to locally moderate wind damage. If realized, expect damage to unanchored mobile homes, porches, carports, and awnings along with some damage to shingles and siding. Tree branches may also be broken off and there may be scattered power outages.

Forecasters expect "life-threatening" flash floods and mudslides in Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba.

Operation Blessing International, a U.S.-based humanitarian organization, has ramped up efforts to avert another cholera outbreak in Haiti as flooding would spread the disease. "Since Haiti has no effective water disposal system, it is imperative that we deliver as much chlorine as possible to avert this silent killer," the organization said Tuesday.

Haiti is currently home to the world's largest cholera epidemic, which has claimed over 7,000 lives in 24 months.

Tropical Storm Tony has also formed in the Atlantic but there are no coastal watches or warnings in effect as it moves northeast.

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