July 7, 2005

Hurricane Dennis headed for Jamaica, Cuba

By Horace Helps

KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Hurricane Dennis soaked
southwestern Haiti and took aim at Jamaica with 105 mph (170
kph) winds on Thursday as U.S. oil companies readied for
another possible storm strike on oil and gas rigs in the Gulf
of Mexico.

About 3,000 people in Jamaica moved to storm shelters, most
from the village of Portland Cottage in south-central Jamaica,
which was battered by Hurricane Ivan last September.

Dennis' fringes had already reached the mountainous
Caribbean island of 2.6 million people and forecasters expected
its core to move north of the coast later on Thursday. Prime
Minister P.J. Patterson hurried home from a meeting of
Caribbean leaders in St. Lucia to deal with the coming storm.

Jamaica's Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency
Management said residents were being evacuated from flood-prone
areas. Rain has already caused mudslides that blocked roads.

Air Jamaica canceled flights to and from the island.
Supermarkets ran low on supplies as people rushed to stock up
on nonperishable goods, and schools were closed.

Soldiers and police were put on alert to prevent looting,
said Community Development Minister Portia Simpson Miller.

"We will not tolerate criminal activity of any kind during
this period and the security forces have pledged to be
efficient," said Simpson Miller.

Hurricane warnings were in effect for southwestern Haiti,
Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and parts of eastern Cuba,
including the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, where the
United States holds more than 500 foreign terrorism suspects.

Deforested Haiti was particularly vulnerable to flash
floods and mudslides. About 6,000 people died in floods last

In Haiti, the heaviest rain was in the southwest, but there
were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries. Forecasters
said up to 10 inches (25 cm) of rain could fall on southern

Dennis was expected to hit western Cuba on Friday and move
into the Gulf of Mexico on Saturday on a path toward the Gulf
oil and gas fields. It was expected to hit the U.S. coast near
Alabama on Sunday, said the U.S. National Hurricane Center in

At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the center of Dennis was about
130 miles east-southeast of Kingston, and moving northwest at
about 10 mph (16 kph), the hurricane center said.

Its 105 mph (170 kph) winds were just below the 111 mph
(179 kph) of a "major" hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale,
one capable of destroying mobile homes and doing structural
damage to small buildings.


Dennis followed closely on the heels of Tropical Storm
Cindy, which flooded streets and knocked out power to thousands
of people around New Orleans this week.

Dennis took a track similar to that of Ivan, which played
havoc with U.S. oil and natural gas production in the Gulf
before striking the coast around Pensacola, Florida last year.
It caused about $13 billion in damage.

Oil companies evacuated some workers from offshore rigs for
Cindy this week and were watching Dennis closely. U.S. crude
futures hit a record of more than $62 a barrel as Dennis was
upgraded to a hurricane, before falling after a series of bomb
attacks in London.