Hurricane Sandy pounded the Bahamas on Thursday, and headed toward the US East Coast on a path which forecasters warned could lead to the creation of a powerful hybrid "Frankenstorm" next week.
The hurricane -- now a category two storm -- has already wreaked havoc on Jamaica, Cuba, the Bahamas and Haiti, killing a total of at least 10 people, downing power lines, damaging hundreds of homes and ruining crops.
Forecast models predict the storm will likely travel up the coast over the weekend and early next week, when it could become a hybrid hurricane-nor'easter that could wreak devastating damage in the Mid-Atlantic and New England.
"The high degree of blocking from eastern North America across the entire Atlantic Basin is expected to allow this unusual merger to take place," said forecasters at the US National Hurricane Center.
The meteorologists said such a combination of adverse weather conditions could affect the area through Halloween on October 31, "inviting perhaps a ghoulish nickname for the cyclone along the lines of 'Frankenstorm'."
The NHC said the storm was already packing winds of up to 105 miles (169 kilometers) per hour as it moved north, near the top of the category two range on the five-point Saffir-Simpson wind scale.
The Bahamas were still bearing the brunt of the storm, with power and phone lines downed, tourists stranded and trees uprooted. Schools, government offices, airports and bridges were to be closed Thursday and Friday.
At 2100 GMT, the eye of the hurricane was near Cat Island in the Central Bahamas -- about 60 miles southeast of Eleuthera -- and its wind field was "expanding." Sandy was moving north at 20 miles per hour.
"Winds are howling in Nassau on Cable Beach. Rain so heavy the Sheraton is leaking - drip. #Sandy," Denise Ryan, an American tourist riding out the storm in the Bahamian capital, wrote on Twitter.
"I wouldn't want to be outdoors, even now. But if you have to, you should be getting ready to get indoors, locked up and locked down until the storm has really passed us," Bahamas meteorologist Geoffrey Greene was quoted as saying in The Nassau Guardian.
Ten people have already died from Sandy -- an elderly Jamaican resident and nine people in Haiti. Haiti's interior minister Leon Ronsard Saint-Cyr also said three others were reported missing.
The hurricane plowed across Jamaica and Haiti on Wednesday, and then slammed into Cuba early Thursday, damaging hundreds of homes, flooding crops and downing trees, according to media reports.
"It was terrible. Roofs were flying off lots of houses. Doors, too, and windows," said Laquesis Bravo, 36, who lives on the outskirts of Santiago de Cuba.
The hurricane also affected the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where 167 terror suspects are held. Preliminary hearings for the accused Al-Qaeda mastermind of the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole were delayed.
In Florida, authorities were already on alert for tropical storm conditions, warning residents to prepare an emergency plan and supplies.
Schools in the state's southern counties of Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward were closed for the rest of the week.
International flights from major airports in the state were kept on schedule, though some headed to or coming from Caribbean destinations were suspended.
Warnings about a possible "Frankenstorm" revived memories of the so-called "Perfect Storm" in 1991 that killed 13 people and caused $200 million in damages to the northeastern United States in late October and early November.
"The potential is there for a significant storm," WCNC-TV chief meteorologist Brad Panovich in Charlotte, North Carolina wrote on Facebook.
"This system is 1 part Hurricane, 1 part Nor'easter and 1 part Blizzard potentially. Impacts of all 3 types of storms are possible depending on location."
The National Weather Service in Philadelphia noted that the storm will be slow-moving, which "worsens the impact for coastal flooding as it will affect multiple high-tide cycles."