Tourists in Caribbean jam airports to escape Hurricane Dean

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August 19, 2007 06:37
4 minute read.

 
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Alarmed tourists jammed Caribbean airports for flights out of Hurricane Dean's path as the fierce storm that has claimed six lives began sweeping past the Dominican Republic and Haiti and threatened to engulf Jamaica and the Cayman Islands. The storm's wrath could be felt Saturday 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 center reported. Rough surf churned by Dean destroyed five houses and damaged 15 others along the Dominican coast, emergency officials said. As dark clouds rolled in from the southeast, residents of the capital calmly ran errands at stores with fully stocked shelves, despite government advisories about heavy rains and possible flooding. "Nothing's going to happen here - a lot of water but nothing else," said Pedro Alvajar, 61, as he sat in a doorway selling lottery tickets. But 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 on Sunday, 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. In malls in the Jamaican capital, storeowners hammered plywood over windows. Elaine Russell recalled Hurricane Ivan's destruction in 2004. "I can't take it," she said. "The storm is bad enough but it's what happens afterwards - there's no light, no water." 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 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 fueling the fear. "People are freaking out because they're not getting answers at their hotel," said Morgan, 38, who got a Saturday flight 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 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. Farther west, the low-lying Cayman Islands are expected to take a direct hit on Monday. Tourists there jammed Owens International Airport in snaking lines that stretched outside onto a lawn. A police officer with a bullhorn kept order. 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 Sunday 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. In the island of Martinique, an overseas department of France, authorities on Saturday confirmed two deaths, including a woman who apparently fell and drowned in her home. Officials there estimated that US$200 million to US$270 million 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 Center 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. Rainfall could eventually total six inches here and in neighboring Haiti, where authorities issued an alert for the coast and mountain communities made vulnerable to mudslides by deforestation. In 2004, Tropical Storm Jeanne triggered massive floods that killed 1,900 people and left 900 others missing. In St. Lucia on Friday, strong winds tore corrugated metal roofs from dozens of homes and the pediatric ward of a hospital, whose patients had been evacuated hours earlier. Police spokeswoman Tamara Charles said a 62-year-old man drowned when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river. 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 coordinator. Dominica's government reported at least 150 homes were damaged. At 11 p.m. EDT, Dean was centered 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.

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