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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

After ravaging eastern Caribbean, Hurricane Beryl moves toward Jamaica

Hurricane Beryl made landfall on Carriacou, a small island north of Grenada, on Monday morning and “flattened” it in just half an hour, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell of Grenada said. (Dexter Leggard/Facebook)

By Emiliano Rodríguez Mega

Hurricane Beryl was barreling west toward Jamaica as a Category 4 storm on Tuesday, a day after it carved a trail of destruction across the southeast Caribbean and killed at least four people, officials said.

Beryl strengthened into a Category 5 storm late Monday, meaning it had maximum sustained winds of at least 157 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center of the United States. It was forecast to bring hurricane conditions to Jamaica on Wednesday.

Major Atlantic hurricanes have maximum sustained winds of 111 mph or higher on a five-tier scale that was developed in the 1970s. By Tuesday morning, Beryl had sustained winds near 165 mph, the National Hurricane Center said.

No Atlantic storm has ever grown to Category 5 strength this early in the season, according to Philip Klotzbach, a Colorado State University meteorologist who specializes in tropical cyclones. By Tuesday afternoon, the storm had been downgraded slightly to a Category 4.

On Tuesday, the streets of Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, were filled with people hurrying to gather last-minute supplies. The bustling supermarkets were crammed with patrons, and many people waited in long lines at ATMs.

“It’s better to have it and don’t want it, than want it and don’t have it,” said Saeed Pottinger, 37, who was getting extra medication, food and other supplies for his mother.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic on major city routes started as early as 9 a.m. “In every direction you turn, pretty much, it’s a gridlock,” said Leiska Powell, the emergency services manager with the Jamaica Red Cross.

The situation was expected to get worse as most businesses announced that they would close at noon. Prime Minister Andrew Holness of Jamaica also ordered the shutting of all government offices except for essential services.

Jamaica’s two main airports — Norman Manley International in Kingston, and Sangster International in Montego Bay — were to close Tuesday night, the airports’ operators announced.

Hurricane Beryl made landfall on Carriacou, a small island north of Grenada, on Monday morning and “flattened” it in just half an hour, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell of Grenada said. (Dexter Leggard/Facebook)

The storm surge accompanying Beryl is expected to raise water levels up to 8 feet along Jamaica’s coast on Wednesday. Flash flooding is also a concern as the storm brings up to 12 inches of rain.

The country’s main electricity provider, Jamaica Public Service, has advised Jamaicans to be prepared for power outages. Holness urged citizens in low-lying areas, especially along the southern coast, where Beryl is expected to pass, to evacuate.

“I quite understand that people don’t want to leave their property; but the most important thing is your life,” he said at a news conference this week.

On Monday, Beryl roared across several Caribbean islands, and four deaths were later reported in Grenada, Carriacou and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The storm made landfall on Carriacou, a small island north of Grenada, on Monday morning and “flattened” it in just half an hour, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell of Grenada said in a briefing broadcast on social media. Government officials also expected “extreme” damage on the neighboring island of Petite Martinique.

During a briefing Tuesday, an official said 95% of roofs and housing on Carriacou and Petite Martinique was lost.

The complete scale of the destruction on Carriacou and Petite Martinique, which have a combined population of roughly 6,000 people, would not be clear until later Tuesday, officials said. There was no power on either island, and communication was difficult.

One death was reported in Grenada’s capital, St. George’s, after a tree fell on a house. “This hits home,” Mitchell said. “The deceased person is in fact the relative of one of the persons who spent the last 36 hours with us here at the National Emergency Operating Center.”

Just north of Carriacou, several islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines also suffered “immense destruction,” Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in a social media briefing. One death was reported, and hundreds of homes, schools and churches were severely damaged, he said.

An estimated 90% of houses on Union Island had been severely damaged or destroyed, and similar levels of destruction were expected on the islands of Mayreau and Canouan, Gonsalves said.

Beryl, the first Atlantic hurricane of the season, left a trail of destruction in its path as it made landfall: trees snapped in half, an extensive storm surge and roofs blown off as winds reached more than 150 mph.

The hurricane was an anomaly in what is already an unusually busy storm season, which extends until the end of November. When it developed into a Category 4 storm on Sunday, it was the third major hurricane ever in the Atlantic Ocean in June — and the first time a Category 4 materialized this early there in the season.

The storm was also historic for the short time it took to strengthen from a tropical depression to a major hurricane — 42 hours — a direct result of above-average sea surface temperatures. The quick escalation was a feat recorded only six other times in Atlantic hurricane history.

Officials in Barbados said on Monday that the island had been spared the worst of Beryl.

The prime minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, told a nationwide broadcast from the island’s emergency operations center that as many as 20 fishing boats, including two popular cruisers, had possibly sunk. Still, she added, “This could have been far worse for us.”

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