Hurricane Tomas headed deeper into the Caribbean early yesterday after storming over a cluster of islands at the sea’s eastern entrance, tearing off roofs, damaging houses and downing power lines.
The storm was moving over open water on a path that could take it near Jamaica later in the week.
Authorities in St Vincent said they had unconfirmed reports that three people died during the storm on Saturday, including two men who might have been blown off a roof.
Jimmy Prince, emergency management spokesman for St Vincent, said fierce winds tore roofs from about 100 homes and more than 400 people sought emergency shelter as the island plunged into darkness.
“Many of them are workers who were unable to get off Mustique,” he said, referring to a tiny island just south of St Vincent.
On St Lucia, high winds tore off the roofs of a hospital, a school and a stadium and toppled a large concrete cross from the roof of a century-old church, government officials said.
Heavy rains caused a landslide that blocked a main highway linking the capital to the island’s southern region.
The government ordered two airports and all businesses closed and people called radio stations to admonish parents who were letting children play in the streets, where trees and power lines were falling.
“This is no joke,” calypso singer Nintus said, one of the callers.
Organizers of the island’s biggest Creole festival called off the event because of the storm, disappointing both would-be revelers and dozens of vendors who traveled to the capital to sell vegetables, fruits and other provisions.
“All my preparations have gone down the drain,” vendor Theckla Darius said, who is from the rural community of Fond Assau. “It’s been a lot of effort for nothing.”
At least 20,000 people were without power on Martinique, while streets flooded and tree branches were down.
A cruise ship carrying nearly 2,000 tourists docked instead in Dominica.
Tomas earlier toppled power lines and damaged houses in Barbados as a tropical storm.
The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said Tomas had maximum sustained winds of 150kph winds late on Saturday and was centered about 120km west of St Lucia. It was moving west-northwest at 15kph.
Forecasts said the Atlantic season’s 12th hurricane could drop up to 15cm of rain in the region.
The US hurricane center said Tomas was likely to strengthen as it moved toward Jamaica and could unleash heavy rains on southern areas of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, which is struggling to recover from a devastating earthquake and cope with a recent cholera outbreak.
Haiti issued an orange storm alert, the second-highest level.
Authorities warned southern and western regions — including the quake-ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince, where an estimated 1.3 million people are living in tent camps — to be on guard for high winds, thunderstorms and possible flooding.
However, with few usable storm shelters and no feasible evacuation plan, residents will largely be on their own.