CASTRIES, St. Lucia (AP) — Hurricane Dean roared into the eastern Caribbean yesterday, tearing away roofs, flooding streets and causing at least three deaths on small islands as the powerful storm headed on a collision course with Jamaica and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
The Atlantic season's first hurricane grew into a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 135 mph after crossing the warm waters of the Caribbean and forecasters warned it could grow into a monster tempest with 150 mph winds before steering next week into the Gulf of Mexico, with its 4,000 oil and gas platforms.
Dean could threaten the United States by Wednesday, forecasters said, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office suggested people get ready.
On tiny St. Lucia, fierce winds tore corrugated metal roofs from dozens of houses and a hospital's pediatric ward, whose patients had been evacuated hours earlier. Police said a 62-year-old man drowned when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river.
The government on Dominica reported a woman and her 7-year-old son died when a hillside soaked by Dean's rains gave way and crushed the house where they were sleeping.
French authorities on the nearby island of Martinique said a 90-year-old man died of a heart attack during the storm but it was not clear whether it was a factor.
Dean was forecast to brush the southern coast of Haiti late today, then hit Jamaica tomorrow and strengthen to Category 4 status, with winds between 131 and 155 mph, before clipping Yucatan two days later. The State Department is preparing to authorize some U.S. diplomats on Jamaica to leave before the storm.
On Yucatan, Mexican authorities broadcast radio alerts, including in the Yucatec Maya language, warning people to "be prepared." Some people boarded up windows and stocked up on supplies, while officials prepared about 570 schools, gymnasiums and public buildings as shelters.
Forecasters said it was too early to tell whether the storm would eventually strike the U.S. coast somewhere, but officials were getting ready just in case.
"It's so far out, but it's not too early to start preparing," said Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the Texas governor.
In Mexico, government emergency officials on Yucatan made plans for dealing with the region's 60,000 domestic and foreign tourists. If Dean continues on its track toward the peninsula, which includes the resort of Cancun, State Tourism Secretary Gabriela Rodriguez said the government would advise the United States, Canada and Europe to warn tourists to postpone visits.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Dean could develop into an extremely dangerous Category 4 hurricane as it approached Yucatan on Tuesday. But the forecasters stressed that intensity predictions can be inaccurate so far in advance.