185mph Dean bears down on its next storm victims

TENS of thousands of people were being evacuated as Hurricane Dean threatened to deal a sledgehammer blow to Mexico and Belize last night, after leaving £1.5 billion of disaster in its wake.

As Jamaica counted its losses - with the capital, Kingston, largely paralysed, other southern coastal communities heavily bruised and 300,000 people reportedly displaced - the storm was swelling to a Category 5, with winds gusting up to 185mph, as it roared westwards.

Yet in Belize City, which was forecast to be in Dean's path, officials admitted the ten available public shelters were only built to withstand a Category 2 hurricane with winds of up to 110mph.

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"Our main focus and advisory at this time would be to therefore evacuate the city," said Philip Willoughby, chairman of the city's housing and shelter management committee, though his advice did not appear to be being heeded.

Water taxis more used to ferrying tourists were used to evacuate residents of Belize's offshore islands, including the 7,000-strong population of San Pedro, to the mainland. Eight vessels from the Belize coastguard were assisting the operation.

In Mexico, 171 buses were pressed into action to move residents out of 16 low-lying communities along the Yucatan peninsula. Thousands were persuaded to leave only after receiving promises that troops would be sent to protect their property from looters.

In the holiday resort of Cancun, 40,000 tourists were evacuated, though a direct hit from the hurricane looked unlikely and many residents stayed put. "People who haven't been here long got out as fast as they could, while those who have been here a while boarded up and waited," said Christian Nordqvist, from Sussex, who now lives in the city with his wife and sons.

Residents of the Cayman Islands, meanwhile, heaved a sigh of relief after the eye of the hurricane skidded 102 miles to the south.

Eqecat, a United States risk assessment firm, estimated insured losses so far from Hurricane Dean of up to $3 billion (1.5 billion).

American oil prices fell slightly yesterday, reflecting relief at the unlikelihood that Hurricane Dean will hit US rigs and platforms in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

But in Mexico, the world's fifth largest producer, companies who operate hundreds of rigs further south, in the path of Dean, were fearing the worst, and 13,360 workers were being evacuated.


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SOLDIERS and police patrolled the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, yesterday to prevent looting in the aftermath of the hurricane.

With many main roads flooded or blocked by debris, officials found it difficult to assess the scale of the damage, and communities in parts of the south coast could not be reached. There were no initial reports of deaths, although one man was missing after trees fell on to his house and officials were awaiting word from 17 fishermen who defied an evacuation order to ride out the storm on the vulnerable island chain of Pedro Cays.

Electricity remained switched off across the island and a curfew was in effect as a state of emergency declared by the prime minister was enforced.