Hurricane Sandy raced toward the southern coast of Jamaica on Wednesday and is expected to make landfall later in the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Schools and businesses closed and emergency authorities moved residents in low-lying, flood-prone areas into shelters as steady rain and winds pounded the Caribbean island.
There was little activity on the streets of the capital, Kingston, as residents heeded the call by authorities to stay home.
Several roads were flooded, and mudslides were reported near villages on the outskirts of Kingston. The government closed the island's two international airports as a precautionary measure.
"We closed the airports at 10 last night and they will remain closed until further notice," airports spokesman John McFarlane said in a statement.
Hurricane Sandy was centered about 65 miles south of Kingston on Wednesday morning and was moving north-northeast at 13 miles per hour with top sustained winds of 80 miles per hour.
A hurricane warning was in effect for both Jamaica and Cuba, although forecasters said Sandy is expected to be a weak Category One hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale of hurricane intensity, with winds topping out at 80 mph.
Sandy's expected path will not take it into the Gulf of Mexico, where U.S. oil and gas operations are clustered.
Computer models showed Sandy was on a projected path that would cut across the middle of Jamaica, close to Kingston and the popular resort of Ocho Rios, before passing over eastern Cuba and losing hurricane strength as it reaches the Bahamas.
A hurricane watch was also issued on Wednesday for central and northwestern Bahamas, and a tropical storm watch was in place for south Florida, though computer models show the center of Sandy is expected to pass well to the east of the Florida coast.
Sandy is expected to dump as much as 6 to 12 inches of rain across parts of Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba, with as much as 20 inches possible in some places, forecasters said.
"These rains may produce life-threatening flash floods and mudslides ... especially in areas of mountainous terrain," the hurricane center warned.
Storm surge could also raise water levels on Jamaica's south and east coasts by 1 to 3 feet (one-third of a meter to 1 meter) above normal tide levels, it added, and as much as 4 to 7 feet above normal in the Bahamas on Friday.