Hurricane Dean crashed into the Caribbean coast of Mexico as a monstrous Category 5 hurricane on Tuesday after picking up strength as it brushed past Jamaica and the Cayman islands.
The eye of the most intense Atlantic storm to make landfall in two decades reached a sparsely populated coastline near the port city Majahual, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The Associated Press described Dean’s path as “a stroke of luck for Mexico” as the coastline had already been evacuated. Furthermore, the storm weakened within hours to a Category 3 hurricane and the hurricane center predicted more weakening as it crosses the Yucatan.
There were no immediate reports of deaths, injuries or major damage, Quintana Roo Gov. Felix Gonzalez told Mexico's Televisa network, though officials had not been able to survey the area.
News of the storm had sent tourists and residents fleeing the region, trying to catch the next flight out of the country. In Mexico during the past three days, officials put more than 50,000 people on flights leaving various parts of the Yucatan peninsula, the federal Communications and Transportation Department said in a statement.
“We’re leaving. You don’t play around with nature,” said Maclovio Manuel Kanul, who owns a beachfront fishing shack near Cancun, according to AP.
“We still haven’t been able to recover from Wilma, and now this is coming,” he had said before Dean made landfall.
Hurricane Wilma ravaged Cancun in 2005 causing $3 billion in damages – the largest insured loss in Mexican history.
Dean is the first hurricane of the Atlantic season and has killed at least 12 people across the Caribbean, hitting the Cayman Islands late Sunday after it battered Jamaica.
Relief groups have been responding by providing assistance to areas included in the storm’s trail of destruction.
The international Christian aid agency World Vision has activated its local Rapid Response Team to take action in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Officials say at least four people were killed in Haiti.
“These countries are especially vulnerable because they are already struggling with chronic poverty,” noted Francois de la Roche, WV’s emergency response director in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Regional staff distributed informational materials and alerted the communities before Dean hit the island.
Moreover, food, clean water, medicines, and emergency generators were prepared in the south provinces where the hurricane was going to hit hardest.
In Jamaica, The Salvation Army’s Eastern Jamaica Division in Kingston is preparing 500 meals daily for distribution to shelters, and putting together food parcels to meet the needs of over 1,000. The group’s Western Jamaica Division in Montego Bay, meanwhile, is preparing assistance for similar numbers in the more rural areas.
According to The Salvation Army, the storm heavily damaged an orphanage and children's home operated by The Salvation Army in Kingston. The roof of a girl's dorm was destroyed by a falling tree. Down the road at The Salvation Army's School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, the only school for the blind in the country, covered walkways and many of the campus' almond trees toppled.
Also in Jamaica, staff and partner organizations of U.K.-based Christian Aid are stepping up relief efforts, including clearing trees and other debris blocking roads in Jamaica and will also be providing relief to people in Haiti whose crops have been destroyed.
“There is still no electricity across the island and communication is very difficult,” reported Rhian Holder, Christian Aid's program officer in Jamaica. “In St. Thomas, where one of our partners is based, the cell phone masts fell in a couple of areas, so it is very difficult to get through. The road to the airport in Kingston is blocked with trees, boulders and sand that have been blown across it.'
According to Christian Aid, torrential rain also caused mudslides north of Kingston and in the St Mary area on the island's north-east coast.
In the south west of Haiti, hundreds of farmers have seen their entire bean, plantain and yam crops destroyed. Christian Aid will be providing seedlings to help people replant.
“This is just the beginning of the hurricane season. We could see several more storms hit the Caribbean over the next few months,” reported Nick Guttman, Christian Aid's director of emergency response who was visiting Haiti when the hurricane struck.
“We are constantly working with local communities to help them prepare early evacuation plans and safeguard their homes,” he said, adding that disaster mitigation training provided by partners had probably played a part in reducing damage.
At 7 a.m. EDT, the eye of Hurricane Dean was over the Yucatan Peninsula, 40 miles northwest of Chetumal. The storm is expected make its way into the central Mexican coast – about 400 miles south of the Texas border – by Wednesday.