Hurricane Dean batters eastern Caribbean, heads for Jamaica

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Dangerous Hurricane Dean hurtled through the eastern Caribbean on Friday, unleashing its 100-mph-plus winds on islands in its path that included Dominica, St. Lucia and Martinique before skirting Jamaica as a Category 4 storm on Sunday. It's projected path takes it just south of the Cayman Islands and toward the Gulf of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

 

Destinations in that path, including the Cayman Islands, Belize and Cancun and Cozumel, Mexico, intensified preparations for Dean's projected arrival Monday and Tuesday as atleast a Category 4 storm packing winds of near 150 mph.

Hurricane Dean could threaten the U.S. by next Wednesday, according to forecasters from the National Hurricane Center.

The eye of the storm, the first hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic season, passed between St. Lucia and Martinique as a Category 2 storm on Friday morning. The winds ripped off corrugated tin roofs, knocking out power and toppling trees in its wake.

Three deaths were attributed to the storm, one each on Dominica, St. Lucia and Martinique.

Dean later strengthened to a Category 3 storm, crossing the 111-mph threshold on Friday afternoon and has since further strengthened to a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of near 150 mph.

As a strong Category 4 hurricane, Dean skirted the islands of Jamaica and Hispaniola on Sunday. No damage reports or reported injuries have been released as of yet.

Despite the ferocity of the storm, initial assessments from St. Lucia several hours after the storm had passed over the island were guardedly optimistic.

Allen Chastanet, St. Lucia's minister of tourism and chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, said that an initial inspection of several hotels as well as telephone reports from some hoteliers indicated that "there are a lot of downed trees, blocked roads and debris but not significant damage to hotels as far as I know. The island got a lot of wind but not a lot of rain, which helped minimize damage."

St. Lucia's power was out in most places, and the majority of hotels were operating on auxiliary generators. "We hope to get most of the power restored this weekend," Chastanet said. "The airports plan to reopen on Saturday and all flights should resume."

Coco Resorts' Coco Palm and Coco Creole in Rodney Bay reported minor property damage and a roof missing from an administration building. Guests were not evacuated before the storm; many staff members remained at the properties during the storm.

Likewise, Almond Resorts' Morgan Bay property reported tree damage, but guest rooms and most of the restaurants were intact, although the Morgan Pier restaurant at the resort did have damage and will be closed for a week, according to Wendy Cole, director of marketing.

Almond's Smugglers Cove property had intermittent power after the storm and minor damage to one of its pools that overlooked the beach.

St. Lucia did experience two landslides at Barre D'ile and at Anse La Raye, which suspended access between the north and the south of the island for a time, according to Maria Fowell, director of tourism.

Club Med on Martinique, which had 100% occupancy at the time of the storm, had some landscaping damage due to the high winds, but "all our guests were okay and remained in their rooms while the storm passed over the island," according to spokesperson Kate Mueller.

Breakfast boxes were delivered to guests the evening prior to the storm's arrival, she said.

Hotels in both Dominica and Martinique moved guests from seaside rooms to interior rooms.

At the Jungle Bay Resort & Spa on Dominica's Atlantic coast, 18 guests spent Thursday night in a steel-and-concrete shelter, according to Laura Ell, hotel spokesperson.

Banana crops on Dominica were badly battered by Dean's winds.

Hurricane Dean passed approximately 100 miles north of Barbados on Thursday night, dumping just a few inches of rain on the island.

The island's Grantley Adams Airport was closed for 12 hours as a precaution but reopened Friday morning, and flights resumed shortly thereafter.

No damage was experienced in the hotel sector, according to the Barbados Tourism Authority.

Elsewhere, Tropical Storm Erin made landfall on Thursday near Lamar, north of Corpus Christi, Texas, and dumped heavy bands of rain as far north as Houston and as far west as Austin and San Antonio, areas already waterlogged from the state's rainiest summer on record.

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

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