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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘Jamaica was spared the worst’: Islands clean up as Beryl weakens

Hurricane Beryl left hundreds of thousands of households without power in Jamaica, and several communities were flooded. (X via NMás)

By Jovan Johnson, Emiliano Rodríguez Mega and Eric Nagourney

Hurricane Beryl, the earliest Category 5 hurricane recorded in the Atlantic Ocean, tore through a new swath of the Caribbean, where it had left islands flattened and communities inundated, then continued on a path toward Mexico on Thursday.

In Jamaica, residents who emerged from shelters took in a landscape of farmland that had been devastated, homes that had sustained damage and roads that were covered with toppled utility poles and foliage.

“The whole place mash up,” Steve Taylor, a resident of the low-lying coastal town of Mitchell Town, told a local TV station.

St. Elizabeth, a farming region known as the country’s breadbasket, was hit particularly hard. “Southwest St. Elizabeth is facing complete devastation,” said Jamaica’s agriculture minister, Floyd Green.

Still, as brutal as Hurricane Beryl was, Jamaican officials surveying the destruction said it could have been still worse.

“The damage was not what we had expected, and so we’re very grateful for that,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness told CNN on Thursday. “I think Jamaica was spared the worst.”

So far, officials said, the death toll in the Caribbean appeared low, with about eight fatalities reported. The storm first made landfall Monday, in Grenada.

On Thursday, as it plowed westward, the storm had lost some of its force and was at Category 2 strength, with winds up to 115 mph.

With dangerous winds, storm surges and heavy rainfall expected, authorities in Mexico were taking no chances.

The government Thursday said it had deployed more than 13,000 workers and members of the armed forces, along with rescue dogs, and had set up mobile kitchens and water-treatment plants in Quintana Roo, a southern state facing the Caribbean that may be the first to feel the storm’s impact.

Some evacuations were underway in Tulum and Felipe Carrillo Puerto, areas that officials feared would face the brunt of the storm’s force.

In Cancun, a popular vacation spot, yachts were clustered in an inland waterway for protection.

Anders Aasen and his family arrived Thursday at Mexico’s Cancun International Airport after traveling for almost 24 hours from Norway, unaware that a hurricane was also arriving there in a matter of hours.

“At the hotel, they haven’t given us any information about what will happen or what we have to do,” said Aasen, 42, an entrepreneur, who planned to travel to Cancun and Tulum with his wife and three children. He said the family had already spent $20,000 on their trip.

Most of the tourists who arrived at the airport Thursday said they had not been informed in advance about the storm and added that neither travel agencies nor hotels had notified them about safety measures.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Shell Oil said it was evacuating nonessential workers from a floating oil platform. The platform, called Perdido, sits about 200 miles south of Galveston, Texas, in about 8,000 feet of water. The company said there were “no other impacts on our production” from the hurricane.

Forecasters were predicting that Mexico would be hit by the hurricane not just once, but twice. It was on track to reach the Yucatan Peninsula first, on Friday, and then, after traversing the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of the northern state of Tamaulipas.

Residents in the Cayman Islands were largely breathing a sigh of relief after Hurricane Beryl passed by at Category 3 strength Thursday morning without making landfall. There were no reports of significant damage, injuries or fatalities. Officials said, however, they were still assessing the storm’s full effects.

The storm emerged as the earliest Category 5 hurricane on record in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University who specializes in tropical cyclones. The previous record was set by Hurricane Emily on July 17, 2005, he said.

Meteorologists say Hurricane Beryl’s quick escalation was a direct result of above-average sea-surface temperatures, and a harbinger of what may be an especially difficult hurricane season.

In Jamaica, power and water supplies were slowly being restored to the areas hit hard: the eastern and southern parishes of Kingston, the capital; Portland, and other neighborhoods. More than 60% of customers were without water and light as of Thursday morning, representatives of the main providers told local news media. Mobile phone service was still unavailable in large parts of the country.

Jamaica’s Sangster International Airport, in the tourism area of Montego Bay, was expected to reopen later Thursday, the transport minister said in a statement, but the main airport, Norman Manley, remained closed for repairs but was expected to reopen Friday.

The government said public-sector workers could return to work, while some commercial institutions have called in their employees. Jamaica’s central bank advised that it would remain closed until Friday. Schools have shut for the summer.

Rebuilding appeared to be a far more arduous task on islands that were hit even harder by the storm, especially in Grenada. Satellite imagery showed flattened houses and buildings without roofs, with the islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique bearing the brunt of the damage. Officials said roughly 98% of the buildings there had been destroyed.

In Argyle, a popular tourist town with dozens of vacation rentals in Carriacou, before-and-after images showed structures reduced to rubble. The island’s docks, usually filled with boats, were empty. And along the northeast coastline of Carriacou, damage continued far inland, satellite imagery showed.

Tourism is one of the island’s main sources of income, and the airport and some hotels were reopening as cleanup operations began, the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association said.

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