2784203

KINGSTON (Reuters) – Hurricane Beryl rumbled towards the Cayman Islands and Mexico on Thursday, after pummeling Jamaica with winds and rain that caused floods and widespread power outages and leaving at a deadly trail of destruction in several smaller Caribbean islands.

Beryl has so far left at least 10 people dead but that number was widely expected to rise as communications are restored on islands devastated by flooding and powerful winds.

Beryl’s eyewall skirted Jamaica’s southern coast, pummeling communities as a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, as emergency workers evacuated 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 southern St. Elizabeth parish. “It’s a disaster.”

Beryl moved away from Jamaica early on Thursday. At around 0900 GMT, the hurricane, now a Category 3 storm, was 55 miles (90 km) from Grand Cayman and about 440 miles (700 km) off Tulum, Mexico, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Beryl was carrying top winds of 130 mph (209 kph), and was expected to dump 4-6 inches (10-15 cm) of rain on the Cayman Islands, where life-threatening surf and rip currents were possible, the NHC said.

A hurricane warning was in force for the Cayman Islands east coast of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

Mexico’s tourist centres of Cancun and the wider Yucatan peninsula lie in Beryl’s predicted path. Cancun’s airport was thronged with tourists hoping to catch last flights out before the storm arrives. Workers filled bags with sand and boarded up doors and windows of businesses for protection.

Mexico’s defense ministry opened around 120 storm shelters, and asked visitors to heed instructions on evacuation or other measures.

Beryl is the 2024 Atlantic season’s first hurricane and at its peak earlier this week was the earliest Category 5 storm on record. A Category 5 hurricane brings winds of 157 mph (252 kph) or higher, capable of causing catastrophic damage including the destruction of homes and infrastructure.

JAMAICA AND SMALL ISLANDS

In Jamaica the island’s main airports were closed and streets were mostly empty after Prime Minister Andrew Holness issued a curfew for Wednesday, which was extended to Thursday as storm conditions continued. At least one person was reported killed in the storm.

Nearly 1,000 people were in shelters by Wednesday evening, Richard Thompson, acting director general at Jamaica’s disaster agency said in an interview on local news.

The storm hit St. Vincent and the Grenadines earlier in the week. Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said in a radio interview that Union Island was “flattened” and it would “be a Herculean effort to rebuild.”

There were at least three confirmed fatalities and crop damage was widespread, senior officials told Reuters. Union Island suffered destruction of more than 90% of buildings.

In Grenada, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell described “Armageddon-like” conditions after the storm made impact earlier in the week, with no power and widespread destruction, while also confirming three deaths.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro told state television that three people had died, four were missing, and over 8,000 homes damaged.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast a large number of major hurricanes in an “extraordinary” season this year. The season runs from the start of June to the end of November

Beryl’s destructive power, coming so early in the hurricane season, underscores the consequences of a warmer Atlantic Ocean, which scientists cite as a sign of human-caused climate change fueling extreme weather.

(Writing by Bernadette Baum and Brendan O’Boyle; Reporting by Zahra Burton in Kingston, Robertson Henry in St. Vincent; Additional reporting by Natalia Siniawski in Gdansk, David Alire Garcia and Brendan O’Boyle in Mexico City, Paola Chiomante in Punta Allen; Editing by Stephen Coates and Frances Kerry)