Hurricane gathers speed at it nears Caribbean islands

Hurricane Dean is heading towards Caribbean islands today with 100mph winds.

Hurricane Dean is heading towards Caribbean islands today with 100mph winds.

The first hurricane of the Atlantic season is expected to pass over St Lucia and the rest of the Lesser Antilles this morning, then intensify as it enters the warm waters of the Caribbean.

It is too early to tell whether the storm will eventually strike the US..

“At some point we’ll have just have to hunker down to let the storm pass and then pop up to see what remains,” said Dawn French, director of St Lucia’s National Emergency Management Organisation.

Hotels in Dominica and Martinique, meanwhile, prepared to move tourists from seaside rooms.

At the Jungle Bay Resort & Spa, on Dominica’s Atlantic coast, about 18 guests spent last night in a reinforced steel-and-concrete shelter, hotel spokeswoman Laura Ell said.

“Everyone’s very calm but taking it seriously,” she said.

In Martinique, officials set up beds at schoolhouse shelters while residents lined up at petrol stations and emptied supermarket shelves.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen this, all our water supply completely gone in less than two hours,” said Jean Claude, a supermarket manager.

The government also cancelled commemoration events planned for the 152 Martinique residents who died in a plane crash a year ago.

In St Lucia, radio and television advisories urged people to stock up on canned food and fill their cars with petrol. Volunteers knocked on doors to make sure people knew about the storm.

The National Hurricane Centre in Miami said Dean is likely to be a dangerous Category 3 hurricane by the time it reaches the central Caribbean.

Forecasters say it is heading towards Jamaica and the southern coasts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola, and could strike the islands on Sunday.

As it approaches the Mexican resort town of Cancun, on the Yucatan Peninsula, on Tuesday it could be an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane, the National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.

The hurricane centre predicted storm surge flooding at two to four feet above normal tide levels near the centre of Dean as it passes over the Lesser Antilles and total possible rainfalls of seven inches in mountainous areas.

Hurricane Dean strengthened to a Category 2 storm yesterday as it moved closer to islands in the eastern Caribbean, forecasters said.

At 5pm EDT (10pm Irish time), the Atlantic season’s first hurricane had top sustained winds of 100 mph, up from 90 mph earlier in the day.

Dean’s centre should be near the Lesser Antilles early today, forecasters said.

Hurricane watches were in effect for the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. Tropical storm warnings have been issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, and St Maarten.

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