Castries, St. Lucia Hurricane Dean roared into the eastern Caribbean on Friday, tearing away roofs, flooding streets and causing at least three deaths. Winds strengthened to a supercharged 145 mph as it headed on a collision course with Jamaica and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula.
The Atlantic season's first hurricane built to a powerful Category 4 storm Friday night after crossing over the warm waters of the Caribbean. Forecasters warned winds could surpass 150 mph before steering next week into the Gulf of Mexico, with its 4,000 oil and gas platforms.
Dean could threaten the United States by Wednesday, forecasters said, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry's office suggested people get ready.
On tiny St. Lucia, fierce winds tore corrugated metal roofs from dozens of houses and a hospital's pediatric ward, whose patients had been evacuated hours earlier. Police said a 62-year-old man drowned when he tried to retrieve a cow from a rain-swollen river.
The government on Dominica reported that a woman and her 7-year-old son died when a hillside soaked by Dean's rains gave way and crushed the house where they were sleeping.
French authorities on the nearby island of Martinique said a 90-year-old man had died of a heart attack during the storm but it was unclear whether it was a factor.
Dean was forecast to brush the southern coast of Haiti late today, then hit Jamaica on Sunday before clipping Yucatan two days later.
In Washington, the State Department said it would allow some U.S. diplomats in Jamaica to leave the island to avoid the storm.
Jamaican officials said Kingston's national arena will serve as one of several shelters, and they drafted a plan to move inmates at two maximum security prisons if needed.
Evacuation plans, especially for the flood-prone eastern region, were finalized, said Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller.
About a dozen cruise ships were altering their itineraries to avoid the hurricane and its aftermath, according to cruisecritic.com, a Web site devoted to cruise travel information.
On Yucatan, Mexican authorities broadcast radio alerts, including in the Yucatec Maya language, warning people to "be prepared." Some people boarded up windows and stocked up on supplies, while officials prepared some 570 schools, gymnasiums and public buildings as shelters.
People on Martinique, St. Lucia and Dominica mostly stayed indoors Friday while the hurricane swept the islands with heavy rain and wind. People who ventured out said the islands seemed to have escaped serious damage.
"I did not sleep at all last night and was a little worried that the roof of my house would be blown off with all that wind. Thank God it did not," Gwenie Moses said Friday as she checked her small tin-roofed house in Dominica's capital, Roseau.
On St. Lucia, the storm washed boulders from the sea onto downtown streets and knocked down trees. The power company shut off electricity across the island to prevent people from being electrocuted by wires broken by falling trees and power poles.
Dominica, which lies north of Martinique, had minor flooding, a few downed fences and trees and battered banana crops, one of the island's main exports.