Hurricane Gilbert, packing 110 mph winds and torrential rain, moved over this capital city Monday after skirting Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
There were no immediate reports of casualties. Telephone communications were affected."Right now it's actually moving over Jamaica," said Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami. "We've already had reports of 110 mph winds on the eastern tip.
"It looks like the eye is going to move lengthwise across that island, and they're going to bear the full brunt of this powerful hurricane," Sheets said.
Forecasters say Gilbert was expected to lash Jamaica throughout the day and was on track to later strike the Cayman Islands, a small British dependency northwest of Jamaica.
Meanwhile, Havana Radio reported Monday that 25,000 people were evacuated from Guantanamo Province on Cuba's southeastern coast as strong winds fanning out from Gilbert began brushing the island.
All Jamaica-bound flights were canceled at Miami International Airport, while flights from Grand Cayman, the main island of the three-island chain, arrived packed with frightened travelers.
"People were running around in the main lobby of our hotel (on Grand Cayman) like chickens with their heads cut off," said one vacationer who was returning home to California through Miami.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the Cayman Islands, Cuba and Haiti. Warnings were discontinued for the Dominican Republic.
"All interests in the Western Caribbean should continue to monitor the progress of this dangerous hurricane," the service said, adding, "Little change in strength is expected for the next several hours as the hurricane moves westward over Jamaica."
The Associated Press' Caribbean headquarters in San Juan, Puerto Rico, was unable to get phone calls through to Kingston, where high winds and heavy rain preceding the storm drenched the capital overnight, toppling trees, causing local flooding and littering streets with branches.
Most Jamaicans stayed home, boarding up windows in preparation for the hurricane. Some companies broadcast appeals for technicians and electricians to report to work.
The weather bureau predicted Gilbert's center, 140 miles southeast of Kingston before dawn, would pass south of Kingston and hit the southern parish of Clarendon.
Flash flood warnings were issued for the parishes of Portland on the northeast and St. Mary on the north. The north coast tourist region from Montego Bay on the west and Ocho Rios on the east, far from the southern impact zone and separated by mountains, was expected to receive only heavy rain.