Hurricane Dean Pummels Jamaica

The Associated Press
Monday, August 20, 2007; 2:19 AM

KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Hurricane Dean pummeled Jamaica on Sunday with gusting winds and torrential rains that blew the roofs off homes, caused landslides and flooded roads.

The prime minister made a last-minute plea for residents to abandon their homes and head for shelter. But many residents ignored the call, while tourists holed up in resorts with hurricane-proof walls.

Dean, which had already killed eight people on its destructive march across the Caribbean, triggered evacuation calls from the Cayman Islands to Texas, and forced the Space Shuttle to cut short its mission. Cruise ships changed course to avoid the storm, but some tourists in Jamaica could not get away before the island closed its airports late Saturday.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said the first hurricane of the Atlantic season was projected to reach the most dangerous classification, a Category 5 storm, with sustained winds of 160 mph before plowing into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday. The Mexican mainland or Texas could be hit later.

"The all-clear has not been given as yet," Omar Afflick, Jamaica's acting senior director for preparedness and emergency operations, told The Associated Press on Sunday night. "Dean is still affecting the island with hurricane-strength conditions."

He said the storm triggered landslides and caused tremendous damage to roads and houses.

Forecasters had predicted Dean would hit the Cayman Islands head-on, but on Sunday night revised that and said it would instead likely pass to the south. Still, the islands could get up to 12 inches of rain and tropical-storm strength winds Monday, said meteorologist Rebecca Waddington of the hurricane center.

Hurricane-force winds began lashing Jamaica on Sunday afternoon, Waddington said. But the island avoided a direct hit when Dean's eye wound up passing just to the south Sunday night.

The government set up more than 1,000 shelters in converted schools, churches and the indoor national sports arena. Authorities urged people to take cover from the storm, which had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph and was expected to dump up to 20 inches of rain on the island.

But only 47 shelters were occupied as the storm began hitting, said Cecil Bailey of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management.

"For the last time, I'm asking you to leave or you will be in danger," Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller urged residents earlier as the storm loomed offshore.

As of 2 a.m. Monday, Dean was about 150 miles southeast of Grand Cayman and was traveling west at 20 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

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