Hurricane Dean, first of the season, batters Caribbean and heads for US

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The Independent US

Hurricane Dean roared through many small Caribbean islands yesterday, tearing away roofs, flooding streets and killing at least three people as it muscled its way across the eastern Caribbean on a collision course with Jamaica and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.

The first hurricane of the season grew into a Category 3 storm yesterday afternoon after crossing into the warm waters of the Caribbean and is forecast to develop into a monster with 150mph winds before hitting the Yucatan and passing into the Gulf of Mexico, where 4,000 oil and gas platforms are located.

By Wednesday, it could be threatening the US, prompting Texas Governor Rick Perry to suggested people get ready.

In St Lucia, fierce winds tore corrugated metal roofs from dozens of homes and the children's ward of a hospital, whose patients had been evacuated hours earlier. A police spokeswoman, Tamara Charles, said a 62-year-old man was swept away and drowned when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river.

In Dominica, a woman and her seven-year-old son were killed when a rain-soaked hillside gave way and crushed the home where they were sleeping.

French authorities on the adjacent island of Martinique said a 90-year-old man died of a heart attack during the storm but it was unclear whether the storm was an aggravating factor.

The storm is expected to hit Jamaica tomorrow and climb to Category 4 status.

In Washington, the State Department was preparing to announce it would allow some US diplomats in Jamaica to leave the island to avoid the storm.

People in Martinique, St Lucia and nearby Dominica mostly stayed indoors yesterday while Hurricane Dean pounded the islands with heavy rain.

Many who did venture out said they were surprised the islands seem to have gotten off fairly easy.

"I did not sleep at all and was a little worried that the roof of my house would be blown off with all that wind. Thank God it did not," Gwenie Moses said as she checked her small tin-roofed house in Dominica's capital, Roseau.

In St Lucia, the storm scattered boulders from the sea on to downtown streets and knocked down trees. With utility poles downed, the power company turned off electricity across the island to prevent people from being electrocuted.

Dominica, which lies north of Martinique, had minor flooding, a few downed fences and trees and battered banana crops, one of the island's main exports.

On Martinique, many residents' household goods were drenched after roofs were carried away."We don't have a roof ... everything is exposed. We tried to save what we could," said Josephine Marcelus in Morne Rouge, northern Martinique. "We sealed ourselves in one room, praying that the hurricane stops blowing over Martinique."

Forecasters said Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are likely be spared.