As Hurricane Dean hurtled toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where it could make landfall as a Category 5 storm between the northern tip of Belize and the resort areas of Cancun and Cozumel sometime late Tuesday, the Cayman Islands heaved a sigh of relief.

Hurricane Dean, a Category 5 storm Monday night with winds near 160 mph, passed 100 miles south of the Cayman Islands Monday morning after battering the south coast of Jamaica throughout the day on Sunday.

That slight wobble south in the projected path spared the Cayman Islands the major devastation and damage inflicted by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, although Grand Cayman experienced high winds and rough seas for several hours.

More than 2,200 people were housed in 19 shelters during the storm's passage.

A statement issued by Cayman Islands Gov. Stuart Jack expressed the relief felt by most residents when he said that the territory "has been spared the brunt of Hurricane Dean."

The Royal Cayman Islands Police Service had lifted the curfew on Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac by mid-afternoon on Monday; the curfew had gone into effect at 10 p.m. on Sunday for all three islands.

Low-lying coastal areas on Grand Cayman had some flooding and significant debris buildup on the roads; wave action of 12 to 16 feet was expected to continue through Monday evening.

Downed power lines blocked some roads in George Town and near Seven Mile Beach as well as in the West Bay and Prospect areas. According to the Caribbean Utilities Co., full power was expected to be restored within 24 to 36 hours.

Meanwhile, in Jamaica, Sangster Airport in Montego Bay reopened Monday afternoon while the roadway leading Norman Manley Airport in Kingston was being cleared, the airport remained closed.

Air Jamaica planned to resume scheduled flights to Montego Bay Monday afternoon.

An estimated 14,000 visitors remained on island during Dean, either because they could not get flights out before the storm or they opted to ride out the storm. Island officials said more than 5,000 residents sought shelter in 231 designated locations.

Basil Smith, director of the Jamaica Tourist Board, said that "recovery teams are on the ground surveying damage. Initial reports show that we fared reasonably well. The majority of damage suffered was to landscaping and utility poles."

Smith also reported that "damage to hotels is limited and, in general, the hotel sector is in good shape."

Confirming this was a report by Gordon "Butch" Stewart, founder and chairman of Sandals & Beaches Resorts, that all seven of the Sandals properties and three of the Beaches properties in Jamaica reported no structural damage.

"Our resorts have weathered the storm. The resorts never lost power, guests are comfortable and debris cleanup has begun," Stewart said.

Likewise, on St. Lucia, where hurricane Dean passed north of the island on Friday as a Category 2 storm, Sandals' three resorts there were open and operating normally.

Stewart said that Sandals and Beaches enacted their Blue Chip Hurricane Guarantee whereby every guest staying at the three locations in St. Lucia and the 10 resorts in Jamaica will receive a free replacement trip in return. In addition, Stewart extended a complimentary night for guests who could not depart their resorts in Jamaica due to cancelled flights on Sunday and Monday.

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and joint CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Development Co. (CTDC), praised the preparedness of the islands in the region who faced the Category 4 Hurricane Dean head on. At the same time, he expressed concern for Mexico and the U.S. Gulf region, where Dean was next headed.

"We offer our sympathies for those adversely impacted by the storm," Vanderpool-Wallace said. "One thing that stood out, however, was the overall level of preparedness the region showed as the storm approached, as well as the response from the island nations."

He said that the region is far better prepared than in years past. "We appreciate the cooperation of our guests as well as our hotel, airline and travel trade partners in helping weather this situation and make what appears will be a strong and quick recovery."

Alec Sanguinetti, director general and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel Association and joint CEO of the CTDC, noted that the hotel sectors on the few islands that were impacted "withstood the storm and are planning a quick return to normal operations."

From the hotel sector

Damage reports from hotels include:

" All Couples Resorts, Sunset Resorts; and Island Outpost properties in Jamaica reported no damage.

" Royal Plantation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, lost power temporarily; guests were given the opportunity to revise their reservations.

" Jamaica Inn and Round Hill had some fallen trees but no structural damage.

" Hilton Hotel in Kingston did not sustain major damage and remains open and operational.

" Half Moon Hotel experienced only minimal effects from the storm; its emergency management crew is removing debris, the resort is operational and guests were to be moved back into their rooms Monday afternoon.

As Dean passed, guests and employees were sheltered at Half Moon's 6,000-square-foot conference center to wait out the storm. Richard Whitfield, managing director, said the resort "was well prepared with our emergency management procedures and were in full gear to secure lives and property."

" Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort Montego Bay will open for new arrivals Tuesday morning. The property experienced minor beach erosion and debris buildup.

" Tryall Club in Montego Bay will reopen to guests next weekend and is working on debris removal and landscaping restoration in the storm's aftermath. The resort's 150 guests were evacuated Saturday with the exception of a few guests who voluntarily opted to ride out the storm.

A core team of 40 staff and the few remaining guests spent the night hunkered down in the underground concrete basement of the 19th century Georgian Great House, which was left undamaged. Also in the bunker-like structure was the crew from The Weather Channel, who reported live from the resort all weekend.

Meanwhile, the Jamaica Tourist Board said the following parishes were affected:

  • St. Andrew (east, including Kingston) had tree and sign damage, downed light poles, roof damage, road erosion in Helshire but no serious hotel damage had yet been reported;
  • St. Ann (central north, including Ocho Rios) experienced very little rain, but winds damaged roads the substantially;
  • St. James (west, including Montego Bay) had little rain but some wind damage;
  • Hanover (west) had minimal damage. 
  • One of the hardest-hit parishes appears to be St. Thomas in the southeast which reported severe wind damage to roofs and landscapes, many blocked roads and the loss of power and communication.

    To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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