Jamaica declares emergency

2007-08-20 10:10

Kingston - Hurricane Dean battered Jamaica into a state of emergency on Monday, downing power lines, ripping off roofs and blocking roads on the Caribbean island with debris and felled trees.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced late on Sunday that security forces would be granted wider powers after police reported several looting incidents across the island.

The state of emergency will be reviewed at a meeting of the Jamaican cabinet later on Monday, but was envisaged for a period of 30 days, and Miller even indicated that national elections on August 27 may be delayed due to Dean.

The category four hurricane, packing winds of 240km/h an hour which have so far killed five people across the Caribbean basin, was whipping up giant surf and dumping rain on Jamaica as it headed for Belize and Mexico's Yucatan peninsula.

Roads were blocked by fallen trees and flooded in the eastern parts of the island, with power cuts affecting thousands of homes.

"The sea has dumped debris onto the roads," Portland parish Mayor Bobbie Montague said as the storm surged by Jamaica's southern coast, on course for the nearby Cayman Islands, Mexico and possibly Texas in coming days.

'Extremely dangerous'

In Texas, Governor Rick Perry has ordered elderly people in the Rio Grande Valley region to be evacuated in case Dean's track takes it in a more northerly direction, which could put it over the southern tip of Texas by Thursday, CNN news reported.

At 06:00 GMT, the centre of Dean was located 240km southeast of Grand Cayman Island, moving west at about 32km an hour, said the US National Hurricane Centre.

Dean remained an "extremely dangerous category four hurricane", the centre pointed out, adding that the storm had the potential of becoming a deadly category five hurricane in the northwestern Caribbean Sea on Monday.

Jamaica's airports were shut since Saturday, and more than 4 500 people have packed into hundreds of shelters opened up by the government around the island amid bitter memories of Hurricane Ivan which killed 14 people in 2004.

Miller called on all off-duty police officers, firefighters and prison warders to report for work, while electricity was turned off on the national grid as a safety measure.

The Jamaica Public Service Company said more than 135 000 customers were without power.

Danger of landslides

The prime minister called on all political parties to forget about national elections on August 27 and "put all differences aside as a national emergency is on us".

Mexico was, meanwhile, evacuating some 90 000 tourists from Cancun and other islands of the "Mayan Riviera", as well as some 13 000 workers on more than 140 of its oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, with Dean set to slam into the Yucatan peninsula early in the week.

In Cuba, just to the north of Jamaica, authorities had evacuated some 150 000 people from six eastern provinces to save them from possible flooding.

Hurricane Dean earlier brushed past Haiti, one of the world's poorest countries, lashing it with heavy rain and gale-force winds. Two people were killed in Haiti's southeastern town of Moron and southern Tiburon, Haitian officials said, and more than 1 000 people evacuated from low-lying areas.

Two people were also killed in the French territory of Martinique, while authorities in the Dominican Republic, where a 16-year-old boy was killed when he was swept away by huge waves, warned of the danger of landslides.

The National Emergency Committee there also said that 1 580 people had been evacuated and some 316 houses had been damaged, many of them severely.

A leading risk modelling company, California-based Eqecat Inc, on Sunday estimated initial losses in the Lesser Antilles islands and Jamaica at between $1.5bn and three billion dollars .