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Last Updated: Monday, 20 August 2007, 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK
Hurricane batters Jamaica's south
Woman and baby sheltering from Hurricane Dean
Some people have been sheltering in local schools

Jamaica has taken a battering from Hurricane Dean, being hit by severe winds and heavy rain as the storm passed south of the island overnight.

The Category Four storm is pushing winds of up to 145mph (230km/h).

A Jamaican reporter told the BBC that many people who had chosen to remain in their homes were forced to flee, such was the severity of the storm.

Dean is now expected to pass close by the low-lying Cayman Islands, before hitting Mexico in the coming hours.

Dean has already claimed at least six lives in the eastern Caribbean.

View path of Hurricane Dean in more detail

Areas of the Cayman Islands and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula are being evacuated, amid meteorological reports the storm could intensify into a Category Five hurricane in the next few hours.

As of 0200 (0600 GMT) Dean was located about 150 miles (240km) south-east of Grand Cayman, travelling west at 20mph, the US National Hurricane Center reported.

The eye of the storm was some miles out to sea as it passed by Jamaica, but it still caused widespread damage as it careered along the south coast.

Trees have been uprooted and roofs ripped off houses in southern Jamaica, as Hurricane Dean's devastating journey through the Caribbean continues.

The windswept waterfront in Kingston, Jamaica
Hurricane Dean did not hit Jamaica directly
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller declared a month-long state of emergency, widening the powers of security forces.

A general election is due to take place on 27 August, but the storm has cast doubt over that date.

Rhian Holder from Christian Aid described to the BBC the scene as the storm moved in:

"It's very, very loud, the wind is roaring and shrieking. The trees are breaking, you're hearing branches snapping, you're hearing thuds, things falling, you're not sure what it is."

As heavy rain began to fall, there were reports of mudslides north of Kingston and the St Mary area on the island's north-east coast.

'Forced to flee'

Kathy Barrett, of Radio Jamaica, told the BBC it had been "raining like crazy" in Kingston.

"I took a journey on to the streets of Kingston and saw huge trees, massive mango trees, coconut trees that have blocked the roads.

We are all boarded up sitting in the front room listening to the local radio and drinking wine
Nick Wilkins
George Town, Grand Cayman
BBC News website reader

"Power lines are down... we got a good beating from Hurricane Dean," she said.

Ahead of the storm the national electricity grid was turned off as a safety measure and the prime minister encouraged people in flood-prone areas to evacuate to the 400-500 emergency shelters which were opened across the island.

Many refused to leave, fearful their homes would be looted if left unguarded. However, Gary Spalding, senior reporter for Radio Jamaica, told the BBC that in the end the severity of the storm forced even those people to flee.

"Roofs have blown off and the place is in a devastated condition, so they have been forced to take shelter now," he said.

Shuttle re-scheduled

In the Cayman Islands a curfew has been imposed and tourists evacuated. Even though the hurricane is expected to pass to the south of the island the government said that it still posed a "significant threat".

Tourists are also being evacuated from Cancun and other parts of the Mayan Riviera in Mexico ahead of Dean's arrival, which is predicted to hit late on Monday night and workers have been removed from oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico.

We're dealing with a number of medical-related cases, as well as search-and-rescue cases due to collapsed structures
Ronald Jackson
Jamaica's office for disaster preparedness

In the US, the return of the space shuttle Endeavour was brought forward by a day in a bid to beat the hurricane should it eventually reach Texas, where Nasa's mission control is based.

When the hurricane passed through eastern parts of the Caribbean at the weekend rough waves damaged buildings on the coast of the Dominican Republic and thousands of people were left without electricity and took refuge in schools and churches on the Haitian island of Gonave.

Six deaths have been confirmed as a result of Dean:

  • A boy was swept out to sea and drowned in the Dominican Republic's capital, Santo Domingo
  • In Martinique, a woman in her early 80s died of a suspected heart attack during the hurricane's passage while a man died after sustaining a fall
  • In Dominica, a landslide crushed a woman and her seven-year-old son while they slept in their home
  • A man aged 62 was swept away and drowned when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river

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