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The New York Times: Hurricane Dean Gains Power in Caribbean

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: August 18, 2007
Filed at 3:05 a.m. ET

CASTRIES, St. Lucia (AP) — Hurricane Dean roared into the eastern Caribbean on Friday, tearing away roofs, flooding streets and causing at least three deaths. Winds hit 150 mph as it headed on a collision course with Jamaica and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where it is forecast to become a Category 5 storm.

The Atlantic season’s first hurricane built to a powerful Category 4 storm Friday night after crossing over the warm waters of the Caribbean. The National Hurricane Center in Miami forecast that Dean would become a Category 5 storm — with winds surpassing 155 mph — as it approaches Yucatan on Monday.

Dean could threaten the United States by Wednesday, forecasters said, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s office suggested people get ready.

On tiny St. Lucia, fierce winds tore corrugated metal roofs from dozens of houses and a hospital’s pediatric ward, whose patients had been evacuated hours earlier. Police said a 62-year-old man drowned when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river.

The government on Dominica reported that a woman and her 7-year-old son died when a hillside soaked by Dean’s rains gave way and crushed the house where they were sleeping.

French authorities on the nearby island of Martinique said a 90-year-old man had died of a heart attack during the storm but it was unclear whether it was a factor.

Dean was forecast to brush the southern coast of Haiti late Saturday, then hit Jamaica on Sunday before clipping Yucatan two days later. In Washington, the State Department said it would allow some U.S. diplomats in Jamaica to leave the island to avoid the storm.

Jamaican officials said Kingston’s national arena will serve as one of several shelters, and they drafted a plan to move inmates at two maximum security prisons if needed. Evacuation plans, especially for the flood-prone eastern region, were finalized, said Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

About a dozen cruise ships were altering their itineraries to avoid the hurricane and its aftermath, according to cruisecritic.com, a Web site devoted to cruise travel information.

On Yucatan, Mexican authorities broadcast radio alerts, including in the Yucatec Maya language, warning people to ”be prepared.” Some people boarded up windows and stocked up on supplies, while officials prepared some 570 schools, gymnasiums and public buildings as shelters.

People on Martinique, St. Lucia and Dominica mostly stayed indoors Friday while the hurricane swept the islands with heavy rain and wind. People who ventured out said the islands seemed to have escaped serious damage.

”I did not sleep at all last night and was a little worried that the roof of my house would be blown off with all that wind. Thank God it did not,” Gwenie Moses said Friday as she checked her small tin-roofed house in Dominica’s capital, Roseau.

On St. Lucia, the storm washed boulders from the sea onto downtown streets and knocked down trees. The power company shut off electricity across the island to prevent people from being electrocuted by wires broken by falling trees and power poles.

Dominica, which lies north of Martinique, had minor flooding, a few downed fences and trees and battered banana crops, one of the island’s main exports.

At Ross University School of Medicine on Dominica, about 80 medical students, mostly from the U.S., and 20 staff and faculty members spent Thursday night watching movies, playing games or sleeping on the floor between desks in a concrete building that was converted into a shelter.

Other students had left the island the previous night on regular airline flights or chartered planes. The campus was not damaged in the storm.

Dominica’s government later reported at least 150 homes were damaged.

On Martinique, household goods were drenched when roofs were ripped off by Dean’s winds.

”We don’t have a roof … everything is exposed. We tried to save what we could,” Josephine Marcelus said in Morne Rouge, a town in northern Martinique. ”We sealed ourselves in one room, praying that the hurricane stops blowing over Martinique.”

Some roads on the island were blocked by blown-over billboards and other debris.

”I saw the roof of a municipal building fly off,” Louis Joseph Manscour, deputy mayor of Trinite, Martinique, said during the storm. ”This is a very hard thing to experience right now. The wind is something impressive.”

At 2 a.m. EDT, Dean was centered about 700 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and about 240 miles south of San Juan, Puerto Rico. It was moving west at 18 mph. The storm’s maximum sustained winds were near 150 mph.

Forecasters said it was too early to tell whether the storm would eventually strike the U.S. coast somewhere, but officials were getting ready just in case.

”It’s so far out, but it’s not too early to start preparing,” said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Texas’s governor.

Energy futures rose Friday on the news that Dean could move into the Gulf of Mexico, which produces roughly 25 percent of the United States’ oil and 15 percent of its natural gas. Royal Dutch Shell PLC said it would evacuate 275 nonessential personnel from the Gulf, adding to the 188 who left earlier this week before another tropical storm struck Texas.

In Mexico, government emergency officials on Yucatan made plans for dealing with the region’s 60,000 domestic and foreign tourists. If Dean continued on its track toward the peninsula, which includes the resort of Cancun, State Tourism Secretary Gabriela Rodriguez said the government would advise the U.S., Canada and Europe to warn tourists to postpone visits.

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Associated Press writers Ellsworth Carter in Roseau, Dominica, Herve Preval in Fort-de-France, Martinique, and Paul Kiernan in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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