Bracing for Hurricane Dean

As Hurricane Dean makes its way toward Mexico's Yucatan peninsula, residents are bracing for what meteorologists are saying could become a Category 5 hurricane, packing winds of up to 150 miles per hour. NPR's Sue Goodwin gives an update from Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

Sue Goodwin, executive producer of Talk of the Nation

Hurricane Dean Moves Toward Mexico

A man runs through high surf caused by Hurricane Dean on Sunday. i i

A man runs through high surf caused by Hurricane Dean on Sunday in Cayes-Jacmel in southeastern Haiti. AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption AFP/Getty Images
A man runs through high surf caused by Hurricane Dean on Sunday.

A man runs through high surf caused by Hurricane Dean on Sunday in Cayes-Jacmel in southeastern Haiti.

AFP/Getty Images

Hurricane Dean whisked past the Cayman Islands on Monday before making its way toward Mexico's coast, where tourists were scurrying for airports and residents were taking to higher ground.

Tens of thousands of tourists fled the beaches of the Mayan Riviera as the storm roared toward the ancient ruins and modern oil installations of the Yucatan Peninsula. Mexico's state oil company, Petroleos de Mexico, said it was evacuating all of its more than 14,000 offshore workers in the southern Gulf of Mexico, which includes the giant Cantarell oil field.

The powerful Category 4 storm, which had killed eight people, was expected to grow into an "extremely dangerous" Category 5 before making landfall.

"A hurricane warning remains in effect for the entire coastline of Belize, along the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula from the Belize/Mexico border northward to Cancun," according to the National Hurricane Center. Maximum sustained winds are near 150 mph.

"The center of the hurricane is expected to make landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula very early Tuesday morning. However, conditions will begin to deteriorate along the coastline well in advance of that arrival of the center," the National Hurricane Center said.

The agency advised that preparations to protect life and property be rushed to completion.

People as far as Texas were taking heed. Officials there opened emergency centers on Monday and passed out sandbags in preparation for a possible encounter with the powerful storm. Though several days away from Texas landfall, officials fear parts of the already saturated state could be flooded by the storm's outer bands.

Travelers in Mexico slept on floors at Cancun's international airport, hoping to get one of the last flights out Monday.

Nicolas Martignoles, 27, a teacher from Paris, stretched out on the airport floor with friends, prepared to wait all night. "We came to the airport because we are on standby, but all the flights are full, so we are waiting for another flight tomorrow."

Dean killed at least eight people as it moved across the Caribbean, but Jamaica avoided a direct hit when the storm wound up passing to the south Sunday night.

No deaths were reported in Jamaica, but the storm displaced some 300,000 people, uprooted trees, flooded streets and tore the roofs off many homes, businesses and a prison block. No prisoners escaped.

Police got into a shootout with looters at a shopping center in the central parish of Clarendon, but nobody was hurt, Constable Cheree Greaves said. Assistant Commissioner of Police Linval Bailey said curfews were in effect Monday evening. Authorities also cut power on the island to prevent damage to the power grid.

The hurricane created massive waves and surges up to 20 feet high as it passed the Dominican Republic on Saturday, flooding roads and drowning a boy. At least two people were killed and about 150 homes were destroyed in Haiti, emergency officials said.

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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