Alarmed tourists jammed Caribbean airports for flights out of Hurricane Dean’s path as the storm threatened to engulf Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
The storm’s force could be felt yesterday in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, where a boy was pulled into the ocean and drowned while watching waves strike an oceanfront boulevard, the Dominican emergency operations centre reported.
A total of six people have died so far.
In Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which stand directly in the path of the Category 4 storm, fear gripped many islanders and tourists alike.
Bracing for a direct hit today, Jamaica began evacuating people into more than 1,000 shelters nationwide.
People jammed supermarkets and hardware stores in Kingston to stock up on canned food, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, lamps and plywood.
Before dawn, tourists began queuing outside the Montego Bay airport in western Jamaica to book flights out.
The storm was expected to bring 155 mph winds and as much as 20 inches of rain.
Shante Morgan of Moorpark, California, said a lack of information about the severity of the storm was fuelling the fear.
“People are freaking out because they’re not getting answers at their hotel,” said Morgan, 38, who got a flight yesterday after waiting several hours. “They’re really playing down the potential influence of the hurricane.”
Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller called for a halt to campaigning for the August 27 general elections, saying: “Let us band together and unite in the threat of this hurricane.”
Michelle Edwards, of Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, said people in vulnerable communities across the island will be moved to schools and other shelters.
Further west, the low-lying Cayman Islands are expected to take a direct hit tomorrow.
Tourists there jammed Owens International Airport in snaking queues that stretched outside on to a lawn.
Cayman Airways added 15 flights to Florida from the wealthy British territory, and they were quickly sold out.
The government ordered a mandatory evacuation by noon today of Little Cayman, the smallest of the territory’s three islands.
Authorities in the eastern Caribbean were assessing the damage after Dean – the first hurricane of the Atlantic season – hit on Friday as a Category 2 storm with winds of near 100 mph.
Officials in Martinique estimated that €147m to €199m is needed to repair infrastructure.
Agriculture Minister Louis Daniel Berthome said all banana crops were destroyed.
Dean was on course to clip Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and enter the Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
Forecasters said it was too soon to say whether it will strike the United States.
Playing it safe, Nasa shortened the last spacewalk for astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavour and ordered the spacecraft to return to Earth on Tuesday – a day early – fearing the storm might threaten the Houston home of Mission Control.
At 11pm EDT (4am Irish time), Dean was centred about 360 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and about 170 miles south-southeast of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti.
The storm was moving west at 17 mph and had maximum sustained winds near 145 mph.
The Cuban government issued a tropical storm warning and said it was evacuating 50,000 people from three central and eastern provinces.