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Hurricane Dean Strengthens in Eastern Caribbean

Hurricane Dean, the first hurricane of this year's Atlantic season, continues to strengthen as it moves through the eastern Caribbean toward Jamaica, where it is expected to make landfall Sunday.

The U.S. National Weather Service says Dean's winds are reaching 240 kilometers-per-hour, a category four storm on the Saffir-Simpson scale that measures a hurricane's intensity and potential destructive power.

Dean is expected to pass Saturday near the island of Hispaniola, which is shared between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Dean could dump as much as 12 centimeters of rain on the island, and cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides.

The governor of the southern U.S. state of Louisiana, on the Gulf of Mexico, has declared a state of emergency in anticipation of the storm and requested federal funding in case Dean makes landfall there. Louisiana is home to the city of New Orleans, which suffered devastating floods in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Forecasters say Dean could be a category five storm, with winds exceeding 250 kilometers per hour, when it hits Jamaica on Sunday.

Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller held emergency meetings with members of the National Disaster Committee on Friday. Reports say Hurricane Dean could force the postponement of Jamaica's general elections, which are scheduled for Monday.

Dean uprooted trees, knocked out power and peeled roofs of houses as it passed the islands of Dominica, Martinique and St. Lucia with strong winds and driving rains. It also destroyed nearly all of the banana plantations and 70 percent of the sugar cane crop in Martinique, a French territory.

The storm is also forecast to clip Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and arrive in the Gulf of Mexico in a few days, potentially disrupting crucial oil refinery operations.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.