Sunday, August 19, 2007

Powerful Hurricane Dean threatens Jamaica

Environmental News Network: Jamaica declared a curfew and troops and police patrolled the streets on Sunday as Hurricane Dean bore down on the island as a ferociously powerful storm, having already killed five on its path through the Caribbean.

Tempers flared in shops where Jamaicans scrambled to get last-minute emergency supplies as Dean began to lash the mountainous island with heavy rain, and the government opened shelters and urged residents of low-lying areas to evacuate.

The hurricane was a dangerous Category 4 storm, the second-highest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, and could yet strengthen into a rare and potentially catastrophic Category 5 as it heads toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Monday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Jamaican police and soldiers patrolled the capital Kingston to prevent looting and the government declared a 48-hour curfew in industrial areas and bussed people to evacuation centers. Mudslides were reported north of Kingston in the communities of Maryland and Dallas. Some residents of one low-lying seaport town close to Kingston refused to flee.

…Hurricane warnings were also in effect for the Cayman islands and parts of Haiti and a tropical storm warning was issued for parts of Cuba and the Dominican Republic.

…Dean was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) and was being watched closely by energy markets, which have been skittish since a series of storms in 2004 and 2005 toppled Gulf of Mexico oil rigs, flooded refineries and cut pipelines.

The latest computer models showed Dean tracking just to the south of Jamaica. That could mean its most damaging winds in the northeast quadrant could slam Kingston. It was then expected to pass the Cayman Islands, a wealthy British territory, hit Mexico's Yucatan early in the week, and after that go into the central Mexican coast.

…Category 5 hurricanes are rare but in 2005 four hurricanes reached that strength including Katrina triggering debate about the impact of global warming on tropical cyclones.

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