Sunday, August 19, 2007

Dean Hits Jamaica and Haiti With 155 MPH Winds

Forecasters: Dean to hit Jamaica with 155 mph winds

Media, police say at least 5 people killed as Dean cuts through Caribbean

Hurricane to brush Haiti, bear down on Jamaica on Sunday, forecasters say

Dean expected to reach Category 5, with 155 mph winds, en route to Jamaica

Forecasters warn of coastal storm surge up to 9 feet over normal tide levels

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (CNN) -- Inching closer to Jamaica, Hurricane Dean brushed the southern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic with high winds early Sunday as it roared through the western Caribbean.

At 5 a.m., the Category 4 storm, described by forecasters as "extremely dangerous," had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph. It is forecast to reach Category 5 intensity, with winds in excess of 155 mph, before bearing down on Jamaica.

Hurricane-force winds extended 60 miles from the center and tropical-force winds extended up to 205 miles.

The massive storm was about 245 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, and 155 miles south-southwest of Port-au-Prince. It was moving west-northwest at 18 mph and was expected to continue moving west or northwest over the next day.

"On this track the core of the hurricane will pass just south of the southwestern peninsula of Haiti during the next few hours and will be near Jamaica later today," the National Hurricane Center said.

The storm has been blamed for at least five deaths as it crossed the Lesser Antilles. Police on St. Lucia said a man drowned in a river while trying to retrieve a cow. Media on Dominica reported a woman and her son died in a landslide. Two more people died on Martinique, The Associated Press reported, citing local authorities.

Jamaica and the Cayman Islands were under a hurricane warning, as was the southwestern peninsula of Haiti from west of the Haiti-Dominican Republic border to Port-au-Prince. A hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are expected in the warning area within 24 hours.

The full force of the hurricane was anticipated near dawn Sunday.

U.N. officials in Port-au-Prince have urged residents to seek shelter in churches and other sturdy buildings before dark, emphasizing that once winds increase, it would be too late to move around. Flights in and out of the city were canceled Saturday, meaning no one else was getting on or off the island.

North of Port-au-Prince -- to the northern Haiti-Dominican Republic border --remained under a tropical storm warning, which means tropical storm conditions are expected within 24 hours.

As of 5 a.m., a tropical storm warning covering the Dominican Republic was no longer in effect.

"I think the Jamaican people have taken the warning very seriously," said Lincoln Robinson, spokesman for Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, referring Saturday to government announcements ordering people to be prepared.

Jamaicans rushed to supermarkets to stock up on groceries, batteries and nonperishable food items, said Jamaican reporter Kirk Abraham. "There are long lines."

In Montego Bay, Jamaica, the weather was calm, but residents were tense. Food and water was being put in place for emergency aid to be offered.

The airport had closed, and the last planes off the island had left. Earlier, Air Jamaica said all flights Sunday from Jamaica to the United States, Toronto and London will be canceled, but Sunday flights from New York to St. Lucia and Barbados will operate as scheduled.

Long-range computer models show Dean entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico early next week after crossing the tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and blowing toward the U.S. Gulf Coast at Category 3 strength. It is expected to make landfall at mid-week.

If Dean hits the United States mainland as a hurricane, it would be the first landfall since October 2005 when Wilma ripped across south Florida.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco declared a state of emergency, as did Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who called Dean an "imminent" threat and took steps to begin deploying emergency responders to the coast.

Blanco, whose state was devastated by hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, urged state residents to "be prepared for the worst and hope for the best."

Perry requested and received a pre-landfall emergency disaster declaration from President Bush on Saturday, National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters.

The declaration allows the federal government to move in supplies and authorize federal money. In addition, Johndroe said, the federal government was reaching out to the Mexican government and preparing to help those with special needs along the Texas coast, including the elderly and those with medical conditions.

Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador in Jamaica is working with authorities there, Johndroe said, and U.S. Agency for International Development teams are in place to distribute emergency relief if necessary.

Early Sunday, officials in Cuba issued a tropical storm watch over eastern portions of the island nation and the province of Guantanamo, where the U.S. naval base is located. See how the Caribbean is bracing for the monster storm »

Five to 10 inches of rain can be expected over Jamaica, with maximum amounts of up to 20 inches. Southern Haiti could receive 4 to 6 inches of rain, with a maximum of 10 inches possible.

The remainder of Haiti, the Dominican Republic and eastern Cuba could receive 2 to 4 inches of rain, with up to 7 inches possible. The Cayman Islands could receive 4 to 8 inches of rain, with a maximum of 12 inches possible

Forecasters warned that the rains could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

A coastal storm surge of 7 to 9 feet over normal tide levels, along with large and dangerous waves, are possible near the center of the storm in the hurricane warning area, forecasters said.

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