Hurricane Dean bore down on Jamaica early Sunday amid concerns it could become "a potentially catastrophic" category five storm capable of causing death and widespread destruction.
Tourists fled resorts in the path of the storm and island residents battened down as the massive swell skirted the Dominican Republic and plowed towards Jamaica, the Caymans and the Mexican coast
Jamaica, dead at the center of the storm's expected track, went on full alert, closing down airports, as hundreds of thousands flocked to markets and petrol stations to stock up on essentials.
"Dean could become a potentially catastrophic category five hurricane at any time before it reaches Yukatan," the US National Hurricane Center warned in a statement issued in Miami, Florida.
Category five hurricanes can bring huge storm surges of 5.5 meters (18 feet) or more and can require the massive evacuation of areas as far inland as 10 kilometers (six miles).
At 0600 GMT, Dean was churning 295 miles (480 kilometers) east-southeast of the Jamaican capital of Kingston and 155 miles (245 kilometers) south of Port-au-Prince, packing sustained winds of 145 miles (230 kilometers) per hour, according to the NHC.