Hurricane Dean roared through small Caribbean islands today, tearing away roofs, flooding streets and killing three people.
The powerful storm is now heading across the eastern Caribbean for Jamaica and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
The first hurricane of the Atlantic season was upgraded to a Category 3 storm this afternoon after crossing into the warm waters of the Caribbean and is forecast to develop into a monster storm with 150mph winds before hitting the Yucatan and passing into the Gulf of Mexico, where 4,000 oil and gas platforms are located.
By Wednesday, it could be threatening the US, and Texas Governor Rick Perry’s spokeswoman warned people to prepare.
In tiny St Lucia, fierce winds tore corrugated metal roofs from dozens of homes and the paediatric ward of a hospital, whose patients had been evacuated hours earlier. Police spokeswoman Tamara Charles said a 62-year-old man was swept away and drowned when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river.
In Dominica, a woman and her seven-year-old son were killed when a rain-soaked hillside gave way and crushed the home where they were sleeping, said Cecil Shillingford, the national disaster coordinator.
French authorities on the adjacent island of Martinique said a 90-year-old man died of a heart attack during the storm but it was unclear whether Dean was a factor.
Dean was expected have 150 mph winds by the time it reaches Jamaica on Sunday. It was projected to clip Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and arrive in the Gulf of Mexico by Wednesday. In Washington, the State Department was preparing to announce it would allow some US diplomats in Jamaica to leave the island to avoid the storm.
People in Martinique, St Lucia and nearby Dominica mostly stayed indoors today while Dean’s remnants pounded the islands with heavy rain and authorities tried to assess damage.
Many who did venture out said they were surprised the islands seemed to have got off fairly lightly.
“I did not sleep at all last night and was a little worried that the roof of my house would be blown off with all that wind. Thank God it did not,” Gwenie Moses said as she checked her small tin-roofed house in Dominica’s capital, Roseau.
In St Lucia, the storm scattered boulders from the sea onto the streets and knocked down trees.
With power lines down, electricity was turned off across the island to prevent people from being electrocuted.
Dean was forecast to be a Category 4 storm with winds of more than 130 mph by tomorrow evening, when it was likely to brush the southern coast of Haiti, where authorities issued an alert for coastal communities and ordered fishing boats to stay ashore until after the weekend.
Dominica, which lies north of Martinique, had minor flooding, a few downed fences and trees and battered banana crops, one of the island’s main exports.
On Martinique, many residents’ household goods were drenched after roofs were carried away by Dean.
“We don’t have a roof… everything is exposed. We tried to save what we could,” said Josephine Marcelus in Morne Rouge, a town in northern Martinique. “We sealed ourselves in one room, praying that the hurricane stops blowing over Martinique.”
It was too early to tell whether the storm would eventually strike the US, but officials were gearing up for the possibility.
“It’s so far out, but it’s not too early to start preparing,” said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for Texas Governor Rick Perry.
Energy futures rose on news that Dean could hit the Gulf of Mexico, which produces roughly 25% of America’s oil and 15% of its natural gas. Royal Dutch Shell said it would evacuate 275 non-essential personnel from the Gulf, adding to the 188 who left earlier this week before another tropical storm struck Texas.