Thursday, August 16, 2007

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Islands in the eastern Caribbean braced for Hurricane Dean, the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, as it approached today with 80 mph winds. Hotels in Dominica and Martinique prepared to evacuate tourists from seaside rooms.

“We have an intensifying hurricane,” said Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Forecasters said it was too early to say which island would catch the brunt of the storm early tomorrow as it passes from the Atlantic over the Lesser Antilles and into the Caribbean.

Once over the warm waters of the Caribbean, it is expected to gain strength and take a bead on Jamaica and the southern coasts of the Dominican Republic and the impoverished country of Haiti.

About 18 guests at the Jungle Bay Resort & Spa on Dominica’s Atlantic coast will be evacuated from their cottages to spend the night in a reinforced steel-and-concrete shelter, hotel spokeswoman Laura Ell said.

The islands of Dominica and St. Lucia issued hurricane warnings.

Hurricane-force winds of at least 74 mph extended up to 25 miles from the center of the storm, and tropical-storm-force winds of at least 39 mph extended up to 70 miles.

Islands near the hurricane’s path could suffer wind damage and flooding from the storm, which could drop 2 to 5 inches of rain, forecasters said.

Hurricane watches were in effect for the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe and its dependencies, Saba and St. Eustatius. Tropical storm watches have been issued for Antigua and Barbuda, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Maarten.

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