Killer Hurricane Dean strengthens
Tourists scramble to get flights out
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Alarmed tourists jammed Caribbean airports for flights out of Hurricane Dean's path yesterday as the monster storm began sweeping past the Dominican Republic and Haiti and threatened to engulf Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.
The Category 4 storm's effects 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, the Dominican emergency operations center reported. The rough waves also destroyed five houses and damaged 15 others along the coast, emergency officials said.
The outer bands of the storms were expected to bring as much as 6 inches to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola.
In Haiti, the government issued radio alerts for people in mountain and coastal areas. In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne brushed the impoverished and heavily deforested country, triggering massive floods that killed 1,900 people and left 900 others missing.
As of 11 p.m. last night, Dean was centered about 170 miles south-southwest of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and 360 miles east-southeast of Kingston. It was moving west at 17 miles per hour and had maximum sustained winds near 150 miles per hour.
In Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which forecasters say stand directly in Dean's path, fear gripped many islanders and tourists alike. Bracing for a direct hit today, Jamaica began evacuating people to more than 1,000 shelters nationwide.
People jammed supermarkets and hardware stores in the capital of Kingston to stock up on canned food, bottled water, flashlights, batteries, lamps, and plywood, while shop owners hammered wood over windows at malls in the city.
Before dawn, tourists began lining up outside the Montego Bay airport in western Jamaica to book flights out. The storm was expected to bring 155-mile-per-hour winds and as much as 20 inches of rain.
Shante Morgan of Moorpark, Calif., said a lack of information about the severity of the storm was fueling 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."
Jamaica's prime minister, Portia Simpson Miller, called for a halt to campaigning for the Aug. 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 in the low-lying Cayman Islands, tourists waited in lines that snaked out of the international airport terminal and onto the lawn outside. Many tourists flopped under a tree to get out of the sun, surrounded by their luggage.
Cayman Airways added 15 flights to Florida from the wealthy British territory, and they quickly sold out. The islands were expected to take a direct hit tomorrow.
The government ordered a mandatory evacuation by noon today of Little Cayman, the smallest of the territory's three islands.
Dean, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, gained strength over warm Caribbean waters after claiming six lives and devastating banana and sugar crops when it hit tiny islands in the eastern Caribbean on Friday as a Category 2 storm.
It was expected to clip Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and enter the Gulf of Mexico by Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Authorities on Mexico's Caribbean coast began evacuating tourists and residents from low-lying Holbox island, north of Cancun yesterday. A total of 2,200 people, including some 250 Mexican and foreign tourists, were ordered to leave, state officials said.
Forecasters said it was too soon to say whether the hurricane would strike the United States.
Worried the storm could disrupt operations at Mission Control in Houston, NASA shortened the last spacewalk for astronauts aboard the shuttle Endeavour and ordered the spacecraft to return to Earth a day early on Tuesday.
Dean passed near the islands of St. Lucia and Martinique early Friday as a Category 2 storm with winds near 100 miles per hour.
In Dominica, a woman and her 7-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 response coordinator.
Authorities said two people died on Martinique, and a 62-year-old man drowned in St. Lucia when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river.