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Hurricane Beryl Heads for Jamaica After Devastating Caribbean Islands

Hurricane Beryl, a powerful Category 4 storm, surged through open waters on Tuesday, leaving a trail of destruction in the southeast Caribbean and resulting in at least six fatalities

The hurricane is now advancing towards Jamaica.

Hurricane Warnings Issued

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) issued a hurricane warning for Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, and Cayman Brac. Although Beryl is weakening, it is expected to remain near major-hurricane strength as it approaches Jamaica early Wednesday, the Cayman Islands on Thursday, and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Friday. Hurricane watches are also in place for Haiti’s southern coast and the Yucatan’s east coast, while Belize has issued a tropical storm watch from its border with Mexico to Belize City.

Early Category 5 Storm

Late Monday, Beryl achieved the status of the earliest Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, peaking with winds of 165 mph (270 kph) before weakening to Category 4. On Tuesday night, the storm was located approximately 300 miles (480 kilometers) east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, with top winds of 150 mph (240 kph), moving west-northwest at 22 mph (35 kph).

Evacuation Preparations in Jamaica

Jamaican officials warned residents in flood-prone areas to prepare for evacuation due to the life-threatening winds and storm surge anticipated. “I encourage all Jamaicans to take the hurricane seriously, but it is not a time to panic,” stated Prime Minister Andrew Holness in a public address on Tuesday.

NHC’s Concerns

Michael Brennan, Director of the NHC, emphasized Jamaica’s vulnerability: “We are most concerned about Jamaica, where the core of a major hurricane is expected to pass near or over the island. Residents should be in a safe place by nightfall and prepared to stay there through Wednesday.”

The NHC forecasts storm surges of 6-9 feet (1.8 to 2.7 meters) above normal tide levels for Jamaica, along with heavy rainfall that could cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, particularly in mountainous areas. A tropical storm warning covers the entire southern coast of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Trail of Devastation

As Beryl swept through the Caribbean Sea, rescue crews assessed the damage on islands like Carriacou in Grenada. Reports indicate three fatalities in Grenada and Carriacou, one in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and two in northern Venezuela, where five people remain missing and 25,000 are affected by heavy rainfall.

In Grenada, a tree fell on a house, resulting in one death, according to Environment Minister Kerryne James. Carriacou and Petit Martinique experienced significant damage, with many homes and businesses flattened.

Extensive Damage in Grenada

Grenadian Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell described the situation as grim, with extensive destruction and impassable roads due to debris. He warned that more fatalities might be discovered as movement remains restricted. “The possibility that there may be more fatalities remains a grim reality as movement is still highly restricted,” Mitchell added.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Impact

Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, vowed to rebuild the affected islands. Union Island saw 90% of homes destroyed, and similar devastation is expected on Myreau and Canouan. Evacuees from Union Island described harrowing experiences, with Sharon DeRoche recounting how she and others huddled in a bathroom for four hours during the storm.

Historical Context and Personal Accounts

The last major hurricane to strike the southeast Caribbean was Hurricane Ivan 20 years ago, causing dozens of deaths in Grenada. Roy O’Neale, a Grenadian resident who lost his home to Ivan, said his current home sustained minimal damage from Beryl. “The wind was terrifying at times, with branches flying everywhere,” he recounted.

Shelters and Community Response

Hundreds sought refuge in shelters across the southeast Caribbean. Urban Mason, a retired teacher managing a shelter in Grenada, noted that many people underestimated the storm’s severity until it was too late. “People tend to be complacent,” Mason observed.

Climate Crisis Highlighted

Among those affected by Beryl was the family of UN Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell. His parents’ home and his late grandmother’s home in Carriacou were damaged. Stiell highlighted the increasing severity of climate-related disasters. “The climate crisis is worsening faster than expected, leading to record-breaking levels of destruction,” he stated.

Agricultural Impact

Grenada, known for its nutmeg production, faces significant agricultural losses, particularly in the northern region hardest hit by Beryl. Prime Minister Mitchell noted that the bulk of the spices are grown in the northern part of the island, which was severely affected by the storm.

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