Dean strengthened into a Category 3 hurricane capable of widespread destruction after it roared through the narrow channel between the Lesser Antilles islands of St Lucia and Martinique, crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the warm Caribbean Sea.
Dean’s projected path would take it near Jamaica tonight.
The US National Hurricane Center predicted Dean would grow to a Category 4 storm, the second-highest level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, with 240km/h winds as it races toward the Gulf, home to a third of US domestic crude oil and 15% of natural gas production.
Energy markets have been skittish about hurricanes since powerful storms in 2004 and 2005, including Ivan, Katrina and Rita, disrupted oil and gas production. Transocean, Royal Dutch Shell, Murphy Oil and other companies pulled dozens of workers from offshore rigs.
Dean, the first hurricane in what is expected to be an above-average Atlantic season, lifted the roof off the paediatric wing at Victoria Hospital in St Lucia’s capital, Castries, but patients had already been moved, officials said.
Heraldine Rock, an ex-government minister in the former British colony of 170,000 people, said the storm ripped roofs off houses and damaged at least two banana plantations.
“In one village, telephone and power lines are down, they’re strewn all over the road, trees are uprooted and are blocking the roads. In another village, a landslide has been reported, cutting off any access to the airport,” she said.
Deputy Prime Minister Leonard Montoute said at least two people were injured when a tree fell on their house.
“I’m told the coastal areas have taken a severe battering, there’s debris all over Castries and flood waters on the roads,” he said.
On neighbouring Martinique, an elderly man died of a heart attack during the storm and six people were injured, according to France’s state office for overseas territories.
Electricity company EDF said 95% of homes were without power.