By Horace Helps
KINGSTON, Jamaica, July 7 (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 year.
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 Haiti.
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 Miami.
At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the center of Dennis was about 130 miles (209 km) east-southeast of Kingston, and moving northwest at about 10 mph (16 kph), the hurricane center said.