Tropical Storm Jeanne Strikes Dominican Republic

Tropical Storm Jeanne (search) hovered near hurricane strength as it plowed through the northeastern Dominican Republic (search) on Thursday, prompting thousands to flee their homes a day after pounding Puerto Rico and killing at least two people.

Jeanne was forecast to regain hurricane strength and move toward the Bahamas — devastated earlier this month by Hurricane Frances (search). It could then move toward the southeast United States, anywhere from Florida to the Carolinas. Eastern Cuba might also be hit, said forecasters.

At least eight Dominicans were injured as trees were toppled and floods struck parts of the east and northeast, emergency officials said. Powerful waves pounded the north coast, along with high winds and driving rain. Phone services and electricity were knocked out in some areas.

More than 8,200 people were evacuated in the Dominican Republic, taking refuge in shelters set up in schools and churches, officials said.

"I'm worried because I don't know what's going to happen. Normally hurricanes don't come here," said Franklin Bussone, a 44-year-old Frenchman from Paris who had boarded up his small waterfront cafe and pulled chairs and tables off his terrace facing the ocean.

Jeanne became a hurricane early Thursday as winds increased to near 80 mph before hitting land at eastern village of Cabo Engano. Winds later dropped to 70 mph over the northeastern Dominican Republic. Tropical storms become hurricanes when winds reach 74 mph.

Jeanne's winds were near 70 mph when it raged across Puerto Rico (search) on Wednesday, dumping up to two feet of rain on the U.S. territory, snapping trees and downing power lines.

"A sudden storm hit us in an unexpected way and with a strength much greater than we had expected," Puerto Rican Gov. Sila Calderon said Thursday before touring flooded areas of north-coast Toa Baja. "It left a wake of destruction that we now have to face."

She asked President Bush to declare a disaster and free up federal aid to "address the urgent and unforeseen needs."

Puerto Rico could expect another 5-10 inches of rain Thursday, threatening flashfloods and mudslides, said Hector Guerrero, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

About 3,600 Puerto Ricans remained in shelters, most of the 4 million islanders were without electricity and some 600,000 without running water, Calderon said.

One woman was killed in the southeastern town of Yabucoa when winds flung her from a hammock and smashed her into a neighbor's house, officials said. In north-coast Vega Baja, a man putting up storm shutters fell from a roof and died, police said.

At 5 p.m., Jeanne's eye was over the northeastern Dominican Republic, about 50 northeast of the capital of Santo Domingo, moving west near 8 mph.

Tropical storm-force winds stretched out 70 miles from Jeanne's center. Jeanne was expected to hug the north coast of the Dominican Republic and turn west-northwest by Friday.

Some flights out of the eastern Dominican Republic were canceled.

A hurricane warning was posted for the southeastern Bahamas and the British Turks and Caicos Islands, and a watch for the central Bahamas. Haiti's north coast was under a storm warning.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, residents in St. Croix said waist-high torrents inundated some homes. Two prisoners escaped from St. Croix's Golden Grove Correctional Facility during the storm, police said, though it was unclear how.

Jeanne follows Hurricane Ivan, which killed at least 70 people across the Caribbean before slamming into the U.S. Gulf Coast Thursday.

The Cayman Islands government reported its first storm-related death from Ivan Thursday.

"We have been severly hit, and we are pulling ourselves out," said McKeeva Bush, government leader of the wealthy British territory. "We still need aid."

He said 20 percent of homes were "totally demolished" and that most had some damage.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Javier with 110 mph winds swirled in the Pacific about 200 miles off Mexico but was weakening and wasn't expected to cause serious problems on land.