By Doug Ohlemeier, The Packer

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Brooks Tropicals Inc. was preparing to survey damage to its papaya-growing regions after Hurricane Dean slammed into the Yucatan Peninsula.

Brooks officials Aug. 21 were not in contact with the 1,200 workers at its Corozal, Belize, growing operations.

Bill Brindle, Brooks' vice president of sales management, said his packinghouse and grove managers were in the cone of the storm's path. Brindle said the avocados and tropicals grower-shipper expected to suffer damage but said the company should know more about the storm's damage by Aug. 24 or Aug 27, he said.

Brindle said Hurricane Dean, a Category 5 storm, passed slightly to the north of Brooks' operations.

Jose Rossignoli, Brooks' director of national sales, said the company shut down its operations Aug. 20 to allow its workers to take care of their families.

In anticipation of the monster storm, the company had secured buildings and took other preparatory steps such as filling diesel tanks.

Brooks officials planned to fly to northern Belize to assess damage as soon as the area's airport reopened, Brindle said.

Most of Brooks' groves are a couple of miles inland. Brooks is one of North America's largest papaya importers.

Belize remains second only to Mexico in shipping papayas to the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.