The storm, which had already killed eight people (including two in Trinidad and Tobago, two in St Lucia and two in Dominica) on its destructive march across the Caribbean, triggered evacuation calls from the Cayman Islands to Texas and forced the Space Shuttle to cut short its mission. Cruise ships changed course to avoid Dean, but some tourists in Jamaica could not get away before the island closed its airports late Saturday.
Hurricane-force winds began lashing Jamaica yesterday afternoon, said meteorologist Rebecca Waddington at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The island took a near-direct hit with Dean’s eye passing just to the south last night. Electricity was cut to avoid death and injury from falling lines and to prevent damage to the power grid.
Thousands of people have reportedly been dislocated as Jamaica was battered and pounded for over eight hours with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour. One man called a local radio station to say his roof had just blown off. The line then went dead. Radio stations also went off the air. Trinidad and Tobago students at UWI, Jamaica were evacuated to rooms in the Kingston Hilton Hotel.
Police got into a shootout with looters at a shopping centre in the central parish of Clarendon, but nobody was hurt, Constable Cheree Greaves said. Assistant Commissioner of Police Linval Bailey said curfews were in effect until this evening. Authorities also cut power on the island to prevent damage to the power grid.
The government set up more than 1,000 shelters in converted schools, churches and the indoor national sports arena. Authorities urged people to take cover from the storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (235 kph) and was expected to dump up to 20 inches (50 cms) of rain on the island. But only 47 shelters were occupied as the storm began hitting, said Cecil Bailey of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. More trickled in later.
“For the last time, I’m asking you to leave or you will be in danger,” Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller urged residents earlier as the storm loomed offshore.
As of 5 pm yesterday, Dean was located 50 miles (80 kms) south of Kingston and was travelling west at 20 mph (32 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. George Lee, mayor of the Portmore community near the capital Kingston, said appeals to evacuate had gone unheeded.
Some islanders said they were afraid for their belongings if they moved to shelters.
“Too much crime in Kingston. I’m not leaving my home,” Paul Lyn said in Port Royal, east of Kingston. Many tourists who did not get flights out took shelter at places like Sandals Whitehouse, a resort that has buildings capable of withstanding a powerful storm.
Trinice Tyler, a postal worker from Lake Elsinore, California, said she would weather the storm there “on my knees praying.”
“I’m celebrating my 40th birthday today, and it’s going to be a birthday to remember,” she said. “I have mixed emotions. It’s exciting, but I’m nervous. Am I going to make it home?” Earlier in the day, fishermen hauled their skiffs inland and cruise ships changed their course to avoid the storm. Local media reported that 17 fishermen were stranded on the Middle Keys, small islands 90 miles (145 kms) south of Jamaica. The Jamaica Defence Force urged them to break the padlocks off a building to seek shelter, Nationwide News Network reported.
The National Hurricane Center said the first hurricane of the Atlantic season was projected to reach the most dangerous classification, Category 5, with sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph) before crashing into the Cayman Islands today and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula after that. The Mexican mainland or Texas could be hit later.
The deaths caused by Dean included a 62-year-old man who was reportedly trying to save a cow from a rain-swollen river in St Lucia. In Dominica, a woman and her seven-year-old son reportedly died when a hillside soaked by Dean’s rains gave way and crushed the house in which they were sleeping. In the Dominican Republic on Saturday, Dean created massive waves that surged as high as 20 feet. The wave crashed on the flooded roads and pulled a boy into the ocean, where he drowned.