Hurricane Dean may become Category five

Hurricane Dean passes Jamaica and nears Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and the oil and gas rigs of Gulf of Mexico. Deadliest US hurricanes
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Updated on Aug 19, 2007 12:54 PM IST
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Reuters | By HT Correspondent, Miami

Hurricane Dean is expected to grow into a ferocious Category 5 storm as it passes Jamaica and nears Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and the oil and gas rigs of the Gulf of Mexico after it smashed into several Caribbean islands, the US National Hurricane Center said on Friday.

With winds near 145 mph (230 kph) late on Friday, Dean was a Category 4 storm, the second-highest level on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale and capable of widespread destruction.

The hurricane center said it was expected to strengthen to Category 5, with top sustained winds in excess of 155 mph (249 kph), before plowing directly over Jamaica toward the Gulf, home to a third of US domestic crude oil and 15 per cent of natural gas production.

Dean roared through the narrow channel between the Lesser Antilles islands of St Lucia and Martinique early Friday, crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the warm Caribbean Sea.

Its progress was being nervously watched by energy markets, which have been skittish about hurricanes since powerful storms in 2004 and 2005, including Ivan, Katrina and Rita, disrupted oil and gas production. Transocean, Royal Dutch Shell, Murphy Oil and other companies pulled dozens of workers from offshore rigs.

Hurricane warnings were issued for southern areas of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Dean, the first hurricane of what is expected to be an above-average Atlantic season, lifted the roof off the pediatric wing at Victoria Hospital in St Lucia's capital, Castries, but patients had already been moved, officials said.

Heraldine Rock, an ex-government minister in the former British colony of 170,000 people, said the storm ripped roofs off houses and damaged at least two banana plantations.

"In one village, telephone and power lines are down. They're strewn all over the road, trees are uprooted and are blocking the roads," she said. "In another village, a landslide has been reported, cutting off any access to the airport."

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