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Hurricane Beryl strikes Jamaica as Caymans, Mexico brace for storm’s impact

Hurricane Beryl thrashed Jamaica with heavy winds and rain on Wednesday, killing at least one person after forging a destructive, water-soaked path across smaller Caribbean islands over the past couple days.

The death toll from the powerful Category 4 hurricane climbed to at least 10, but it is widely expected to rise further as communications come back online across drenched islands damaged by flooding and deadly winds.

In Jamaica, Beryl’s eyewall skirted the island’s southern coast, pummeling communities as emergency groups rushed to evacuate people from flood-prone areas.

“It’s terrible. Everything’s gone. I’m in my house and scared,” said Amoy Wellington, a 51-year-old cashier who lives in Top Hill, a rural farming community in Jamaica’s southern St. Elizabeth parish. “It’s a disaster.”

A woman died in Jamaica’s Hanover parish after a tree fell on her home, Richard Thompson, acting director general at Jamaica’s disaster agency said in an interview on local news.

Nearly a thousand Jamaicans were in shelters by Wednesday evening, Thompson added.

The island’s main airports were closed and streets were mostly empty after Prime Minister Andrew Holness issued a nationwide curfew for Wednesday.

“We can do as much as we can do, as (is) humanly possible, and we leave the rest in the hands of God,” Holness said earlier on Wednesday, urging residents in vulnerable areas to evacuate.

The loss of life and damage wrought by Beryl underscores the consequences of a warmer Atlantic Ocean, which scientists cite as a telltale sign of human-caused climate change fueling extreme weather that differs from past experience.

Ralph Gonsalves, prime minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, one of the hardest-hit areas in the eastern Caribbean, said in a radio interview that the country’s Union Island was “flattened” by Beryl.

“Everybody is homeless … It is going to be a Herculean effort to rebuild.”

Speaking to state media, Nerissa Gittens-McMillan, permanent secretary at St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ agriculture ministry, warned of possible food shortages after 50% of the country’s plantain and banana crops were lost, with significant losses also to root crops and vegetables.

Power outages were widespread across Jamaica, while some roads near the coast were washed out.

By Wednesday evening, the eye of the spiraling hurricane was located about 100 miles (161 km) west of Kingston, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC), as the storm’s core headed toward the Cayman Islands, where hurricane conditions were expected late tonight.

Beryl is packing maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (209 kph).

The force of the winds is expected to weaken somewhat in the next day or two, according to the NHC, though it cautioned that Beryl would remain at or near major hurricane strength as it passed the Cayman Islands.

Beryl is expected to dump 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) of rain on the Cayman Islands overnight and into Thursday. Large swells were expected to “cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the NHC said.

The center added that a hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, the Cayman Islands, as well as the eastern coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, including for the country’s top beach resort Cancun.

‘ARMAGEDDON-LIKE’

Additional confirmed fatalities so far include at least three din St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a senior official told Reuters, where Union Island has suffered severe destruction of over 90% of buildings.

In Grenada, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell described “Armageddon-like” conditions with no power and widespread destruction, while also confirming three deaths.

In Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro told state television that three people had died and four were missing in the area, along with more than 8,000 homes damaged by torrential rains, including at least 400 destroyed.

Venezuelan Vice President Delcy Rodriguez was injured by a falling tree on Tuesday as she surveyed an area south of Beryl where intense rainfall caused the Manzanares River in Sucre state to burst its banks, the president confirmed.

The unusually early hurricane strengthened at a record pace, which scientists argue is almost certainly fueled by climate change.

Beryl is the 2024 Atlantic season’s first hurricane and the earliest storm on record to reach the highest category on the Saffir-Simpson five-stage scale. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast a large number of major hurricanes in an “extraordinary” season this year.

Beyond near-term impact in Jamaica and Haiti, the NHC warned that Beryl will likely make landfall as hurricane on Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula as early as Thursday night.

In the fishing village of Punta Allen, in the state of Quintana Roo, residents moved boats inland for safety, while navy officers implored reluctant residents to evacuate.

In tourist epicenter Cancun, an environmental agency worked to gather eggs from sea turtles’ nests for their protection. Tourists soaked up the sun’s rays while they still could.

Meanwhile, workers filled bags with sand and boarded up doors and windows of businesses for protection. Officials said supplies of wooden boards were dwindling as Cancun locals and tourists prepared for Beryl’s arrival.

Laura Velazquez, head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, encouraged tourists in Cancun and nearby Tulum to hunker down in hotel basements once the hurricane approaches, in comments to local broadcaster Milenio.

(Reuters)

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Last Updated: 19th Jul 2024