KINGSTON (Reuters) - Jamaica declared a curfew and troops patrolled the streets on Sunday as fiercely powerful Hurricane Dean bore down on the island after killing five people earlier on its run through the Caribbean.
Tempers flared in shops where Jamaicans scrambled for last-minute emergency supplies as Dean began to lash the mountainous island with heavy rain. The government opened shelters and urged residents of low-lying areas to evacuate.
The hurricane was an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, the second-highest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, and could strengthen into a rare and potentially catastrophic Category 5 near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Jamaican soldiers and police patrolled the capital Kingston to prevent looting while the government declared a 48-hour curfew in industrial areas and bussed people to evacuation centers. Mudslides were reported north of Kingston and in the northeast parish of St. Mary.
Some residents of one low-lying seaport town close to Kingston refused to leave.
“We are going nowhere,” Byron Thompson said in the former buccaneer town of Port Royal, settled by pirate Henry Morgan in the 16th century. “In fact, if you come by here later today you will see me drinking rum over in that bar with some friends.”
Jamaica’s power company switched off power to most of the island but in Kingston it was still running.
Gas stations closed and shoppers scoured the shops still open for batteries, flashlights, canned tuna, rice and water.
Two men came close to blows in one shop after one tried to break in front of a long line.
“Too many of us have braved the weather to be out here in long lines, so people just can’t come here and cut in,” said Dave Brown, trying to buy bread and matches.
Campaigning for August 27 elections was halted.
Dean packed sustained winds of 145 miles per hour (230 km per hour) and its eye was about 80 miles southeast of Kingston at 2 p.m. EDT.
Hurricane warnings were also in effect for the Cayman islands and parts of Haiti, and a tropical storm warning was issued for parts of Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
Thousands of frightened tourists along Mexico’s Caribbean coast stood in line for hours at airports to flee before Dean’s expected arrival on Monday.
One man was killed in Haiti when a tree fell on a house in Murun, in the southwestern province of Grand Anse, said Silvera Guilleume, the area’s civil protection coordinator.
That brought to at least five the number killed by Dean since it roared between the Lesser Antilles islands of Martinique and St. Lucia on Friday as the first hurricane of what is expected to be an active 2007 Atlantic storm season.
Landslides triggered by the rain also destroyed several hundred houses in southern Haiti and damaged crops but there were no reports of further deaths, said Alta Jean-Baptiste, the Civil Protection director in the country of 8 million.
Dean was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (30 kph) and was being watched closely by energy markets, which have been skittish since a series of storms in 2004 and 2005 toppled Gulf of Mexico oil rigs, flooded refineries and cut pipelines.
Mexico’s Pemex oil company started to evacuate 13,360 workers from its Gulf rigs ahead of Dean’s arrival there.
The latest computer models showed Dean tracking just to the south of Jamaica. That could mean its most damaging winds in the northeast quadrant could slam Kingston.
It was then expected to pass the Cayman Islands, a wealthy British territory, hit Mexico’s Yucatan early in the week, and after that go into the central Mexican coast.
The U.S. space shuttle Endeavour hastily departed the orbiting International Space Station in order to land back on Earth a day ahead of schedule in case the storm forced NASA to evacuate its mission control center in Houston.
Category 5 hurricanes are rare but in 2005 there were four, including Katrina, reinforcing research that suggests global warming may increase the strength of tropical cyclones.
Additional reporting by Joseph Guyler Delva in Port-au-Prince, Marc Frank in Havana, Michael Christie in Miami, Carlos Barria and Carole Beckford in Kingston, Manuel Jimenez in the Santo Domingo, Shurna Robbins and Alan Markoff in George Town and Anna Willard in Paris
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