Cayman Islands imposes curfew as hurricane hits Jamaica

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The Independent US

Cayman Islands imposed a curfew and evacuated tourists as the British territory today faced Hurricane Dean, a powerful storm leaving a trail of destruction across the Caribbean.

Dean, which uprooted trees and tore roofs from homes as it skirted the southern coast of Jamaica yesterday, was expected to hit Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula late today. At least eight people have been killed as the storm moved across the Caribbean.

The hurricane is 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 12in of rain.

Authorities urged people to take cover from the storm, which early today had winds of 150mph, up from 145mph yesterday, and could dump up to 20in of rain.

The storm is a powerful Category 4, and could reach the highest level, Category 5, with maximum winds greater than 155mph later today, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.

Cayman Islands Governor Stuart Jack said all but 1,500 tourists had been moved out by yesterday afternoon and 19 storm shelters had been set up 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 said.

He said a curfew was imposed on Sunday night "to ensure that everybody has taken cover" and that two Royal Navy vessels would arrive today 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 last night. There were no deaths reported in Jamaica, but the storm uprooted trees, flooded roads and tore the roofs off many homes, businesses and a prison block. No prisoners escaped.

There were also reports of collapsed structures. Jamaican authorities said they expected to begin assessing the damage later today.

Police said officers got into a shootout with looters at a shopping centre in the central parish of Clarendon, but nobody was hurt. Curfews are in force until tonight.

Power was cut on the island to prevent damage to the power grid, leaving more than 125,000 customers without power.

The government set up more than 1,000 shelters in converted schools, churches and the indoor national sports arena.

As of 5am local time today, Dean was about 115 miles south-east of Grand Cayman and was traveling west at about 20 mph, the US National Hurricane Centre 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.

There was also a hurricane warning in effect for Belize's coast.

In Mexico, tourists also streamed out of resorts on Yucatan peninsula and formed long queue at the airport to try to fly home. Twelve empty planes arrived yesterday to move holidaymakers out.

The hurricane created massive waves and surges up to 20ft high as it passed the Dominican Republic on Saturday, flooding roads, where a boy drowned. At least two people were killed and about 150 homes were destroyed in Haiti, emergency officials said.