Hurricane Sandy caused 38 deaths and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes in a wide swath of the Caribbean.

Sandy, which was a Category 2 hurricane at its peak intensity earlier this week, killed 11 people in Cuba, 26 in Haiti and one in Jamaica and now threatens the northeastern United States, prompting the states of New York and Virginia to declare a state of emergency.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said in its latest public advisory at 8:00 a.m. Saturday that Sandy currently is a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 120 kilometers (75 miles) per hour. It had been downgraded to a tropical storm earlier Saturday morning.

The NHC said the hurricane will move parallel to the southeast coast of the United states during the weekend.

Sandy made landfall in Cuba in the wee hours of Thursday as a Category 2 storm, lashing the eastern part of the country for five hours with torrential rains and maximum sustained winds of 175 kilometers (109 miles) per hour.

The hurricane especially battered the provinces of Santiago de Cuba and Holguin, where the official media described the material damage as "terrible."

Heavy rains from Sandy's outer bands triggered deadly flooding in vulnerable Haiti.

In addition to the 26 deaths, four people are reported missing and 17,742 people are being housed in shelters due to flooding and mudslides in that destitute Caribbean country.

In Cuba, powerful winds and torrential rains associated with Sandy destroyed or damaged thousands of homes, stores, warehouses and plantations, mainly in Santiago de Cuba and Holguin. EFE