It appears Hurricane Dean's bark was worse than his bite

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Hurricane Dean weakened to a tropical storm Wednesday after it moved inland over the mountains of central Mexico, where forecasters expected it to finally dissipate.

Although a weakened remnant of what it had once been when it roared through the Caribbean and the Yucatan over the past several days, Dean managed to dump up to 10 inches of rain and cause some flash flooding and mudslides along its route in its final hours.

As a storm, Dean made it to the record books in memorable fashion: it was the first hurricane of the 2007 Atlantic season; the first Category 5 storm (winds above 156 mph) to make landfall since Hurricane Andrew slammed south Florida in 1992, and the storm with the third lowest barometric pressure readings since records started being kept sometime in the 1930s.

Dean also caused the postponement of the national elections in Jamaica, which had been set for Aug. 27.

If tallies are kept on the numbers of guests evacuated from hotels, the numbers of extra flights and sections put on by the carriers serving the affected regions of the Caribbean and Mexico, and the thousands of plywood sections hammered over window frames to protect from wind and rain, Dean probably entered the record books in those areas as well.

Although insurance adjustors will be busy in the days to come, as will hotel firms with payouts from their hurricane guarantee programs, Dean demonstrated that the region did heed warnings and activated emergency plans, all the while mounting preparations on levels not seen before in previous hurricane seasons.

Both Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace and Alec Sanguinetti, the joint CEOs of the Caribbean Tourism Development Corp., acknowledged and recognized the level of preparedness of the region and the response from island nations.

"The Caribbean region is better prepared overall today than in years past. We appreciate the cooperation of our guests and our industry partners in helping weather this situation and make what appears to be a strong and quick recovery," Vanderpool-Wallace said.

Some final thoughts on the storm:

" Martinique's tourism industry withstood the storm well. "Those of us in the tourism sector are counting our blessings," said Muriel Wiltord, director U.S. and Latin America for the Martinique Promotion Bureau/CMT USA.

However, its banana crop did not fare as well, and French Prime Minister Francois Fillon was expected to visit both Martinique and Guadeloupe later this week for a firsthand view of the damage to the islands' agricultural industry.

Eric de Lucy, president of the Banana Producers Union for Martinique and Guadeloupe, estimated the cost of crop damage at $337 million in Martinique and $202 million in Guadeloupe.

" Dominica's tourism infrastructure escaped with only minor damage, according to the Dominica Tourist Board, but its banana crop, which constitutes about 10% of the island's gross domestic product, also was heavily damaged.

" Allen Chastanet, St. Lucia's minister of tourism and civil aviation, began taking stock of the island's hotel inventory even before the raindrops stopped last Friday. His initial assessment of "minimal landscaping damage" bode well for the region a whole.

" Frequent updates from the Jamaica Tourist Board included specific roads in various parishes that were blocked with debris. Also included were timelines from the electric and power authorities regarding when power would be restored sector by sector.

" The Cayman Islands Dept. of Tourism, still smarting from criticism during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 that communication with the media had been mishandled, had arranged a teleconference call for the media with the governor, the head of the hurricane committee and the leader of government business just hours before Dean was scheduled to slam Grand Cayman.

In addition, assessment reports were quick to arrive from Belize, the Cancun and Cozumel tourism representatives, the Mexico Tourist Office and hotel firms.

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

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