Curfew was imposed and tourists were evacuated from the Cayman Islands as Hurricane Dean was approaching the territory on Monday - a powerful storm leaving a trail of destruction across the Caribbean.
Strong winds of the hurricane uprooted trees and tore roofs from homes as Dean skirted the southern coast of Jamaica on Sunday. The hurricane was expected to slam into Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula late Monday. The storm has killed at least eight people as it has moved across the Caribbean.
Dean was expected to pass to the south of the Caymans but the government said it still posed a "significant threat" to the islands. Forecasters said the islands could receive up to 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain.
Authorities urged people to take cover from the storm, which early Monday had maximum sustained winds of 150 mph (241 kph), up from 145 mph (235 kph) Sunday, and could dump up to 20 inches (50 centimeters) of rain.
The storm is a powerful Category 4, and could reach the highest level, Category 5, with maximum winds greater than 155 mph (249 kph) later Monday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its latest advisory.
Hundreds of people jammed the airport Saturday, many sprawled on the floor as they waited for flights out of the territory.
"It's kind of spooky. We don't know what to do or where to go," said 20-year-old George Mitchell, of Detroit, Michigan, who had missed his flight.
Not everyone was eager to be evacuated.
"We were going to stay and ride it out but then our hotel just kicked us out," said Berta Eversoll, 46, Jacksonville, Florida, as she sipped a beer at the airport.
Cayman Islands Gov. Stuart Jack said authorities had evacuated all but 1,500 tourists from the territory by Sunday afternoon and set up 19 storm shelters for anyone without a safe place to go.
"We are talking to the hotels to assure that all will be safe and taking precaution if any tourists remain," Jack told state-run Radio Cayman.
Jack said a curfew would be imposed Sunday night "to ensure that everybody has taken cover" and that two British Royal Navy vessels would arrive Monday to provide emergency aid.
"I am confident that we are in the best possible position to face this storm," he said.
The territory was devastated by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and many homes and businesses have been rebuilt to withstand strong storms as a result.
Jamaica avoided the direct hit when the storm wound up passing to the south Sunday night. There were no deaths reported in Jamaica, but the storm uprooted trees, flooded streets and tore the roofs off many homes, businesses and a prison block. No prisoners escaped.
Police got into a shootout with looters at a shopping center in the central parish of Clarendon, but nobody was hurt, Constable Cheree Greaves said. Assistant Commissioner of Police Linval Bailey said curfews were in effect until Monday evening. Authorities also cut power on the island to prevent damage to the power grid.
The government set up more than 1,000 shelters in converted schools, churches and the indoor national sports arena.
But only 47 shelters were occupied as the storm moved in, said Cecil Bailey of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management. More people trickled in later.
As of 2 a.m. (0600 GMT) Monday, Dean was about 150 miles (240 kilometers) southeast of Grand Cayman and was traveling west at 20 mph (32 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
George Lee, mayor of the Portmore community near the Jamaican capital Kingston, said appeals to evacuate went unheeded. Some islanders said they were afraid for their belongings if they moved to shelters.
"Too much crime in Kingston. I'm not leaving my home," Paul Lyn said in Port Royal, east of Kingston.
Many tourists who did not get flights out took shelter at places like Sandals Whitehouse, a resort that has buildings capable of withstanding a powerful storm.
Trinice Tyler, a postal worker from Lake Elsinore, California, said she would weather the storm there "on my knees praying."
"I'm celebrating my 40th birthday today, and it's going to be a birthday to remember," she said. "I have mixed emotions. It's exciting, but I'm nervous. Am I going to make it home?"
Earlier in the day, fishermen hauled their skiffs inland and cruise ships changed their course to avoid the storm. Local media reported that 17 fisherman were stranded on the Middle Keys, small islands 90 miles (145 kilometers) south of Jamaica. The Jamaica Defense Force urged them to break the padlocks off a building to seek shelter, Nationwide News Network reported.
The National Hurricane Center said the first hurricane of the Atlantic season was projected to then reach the most dangerous classification, Category 5, with sustained winds of 160 mph (260 kph), before plowing into Mexico's Yucatan peninsula on Tuesday. The Mexican mainland or Texas could be hit later.
In Mexico, tourists also streamed out of resorts on Yucatan peninsula and formed long lines at the airport to try to fly home. Twelve empty planes arrived Sunday to move travelers out, said airport spokesman Eduardo Rivadeneira. The state government set up 530 shelters with a capacity of 73,000 people.
The hurricane created massive waves and surges up to 20 feet (six meters) high as it passed the Dominican Republic on Saturday, flooding roads and drowning a boy. At least two people were killed and about 150 homes were destroyed in Haiti, emergency officials said.
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