Hurricane Dean rips through Caribbean islands

Hurricane Dean tore through the eastern Caribbean islands of St Lucia and Martinique on Friday, ripping the roofs from a hospital and homes, felling trees and flinging boulders and a boat on to roads.

The first hurricane of the Atlantic season, packing 160km/h winds, tore the roof off the children’s ward at Victoria Hospital in Castries, the capital of St Lucia, but patients already had been evacuated and no injuries were reported.

Buildings across this eastern Caribbean island lost their roofs, often made of corrugated metal. With utility poles downed, the power company turned off electricity on the island to prevent anyone from being electrocuted.

St Lucia state radio reported the capital was flooded and cluttered with wind-blown debris. Boulders from a sea wall were shoved on to roads by the force of storm surges. A boat also sat in the road, lifted from the sea by the storm.

The eye of Dean passed between St Lucia and the French island of Martinique, the National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.

”We don’t have a roof … everything is exposed. We tried to save what we could,” said Josephine Marcelus in Morne Rouge, a town in northern Martinique. ”We sealed ourselves in one room, praying that the hurricane stops blowing over Martinique.”

In Martinique’s Epinay district, emergency officials cleared debris off roads to try to get to a family whose roof blew off. Some roads were impassable from blown-over billboards and other debris.

”I saw the roof of a municipal building fly off. This is a very hard thing to experience right now. The wind is something impressive,” said Louis Joseph Manscour, deputy mayor of Trinite, Martinique.

Laurent Bigot, director of a Martinique crisis team, warned people to stay inside or ”we could start grieving for victims”.

On Dominica, just north of Martinique, winds damaged much of the banana crop, one of the island’s main exports.

The category-two hurricane was expected to intensify as it entered the warm waters of the Caribbean — heading toward Jamaica.

It was too early to tell whether the storm would eventually strike the United States, but officials were gearing up for the possibility of the season’s most severe storm yet.

”It’s so far out, but it’s not too early to start preparing,” said Katherine Cesinger, a spokesperson for Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Family members hired private planes to evacuate about 300 American medical students from Dominica’s Ross University, said Dr Mauricio Gomez, from the UCLA Medical Centre in California, whose fiancée was among the students.

Most arrived in Puerto Rico to await flights on Friday bound for the US, Gomez said.

The National Hurricane Centre said Dean would likely be a dangerous category-three hurricane by the time it reached the central Caribbean. Forecasters said it appeared Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands would be spared from the brunt of Dean’s winds.

Dean could get closer to the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which share the island of Hispaniola. As it approaches Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and Central America on Tuesday it could be an extremely dangerous category-four hurricane, the hurricane centre said. But forecasters always warn that their intensity predictions can be inaccurate that far in advance.

Forecasters predicted storm surge flooding at 60cm to 1,2m above normal tide levels near the center of Dean as it passes over the Lesser Antilles and total possible rainfalls of 25cm in mountainous areas.

Warnings have been issued for the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and St Maarten and Grenada.

The warnings were cancelled for Barbados, St Vincent and the Grenadines. — Sapa-AP

Associated Press writer Ellsworth Carter in Roseau, Dominica, contributed to this report

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