Beryl heads to Jamaica after devastating the Eastern Caribbean

Beryl heads to Jamaica after devastating the Eastern Caribbean
Beryl heads to Jamaica after devastating the Eastern Caribbean

Hurricane Beryl is moving toward Jamaica as a Category 4 storm, after wreaking havoc across the southeastern Caribbean and killing at least four people.

Beryl intensified to a Category 5 storm with winds of at least 155 mph, but was downgraded to a Category 4 late Tuesday afternoon, with sustained winds near 165 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

No Atlantic storm has reached Category 5 strength this early in the season, noted Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University. Major Atlantic hurricanes have sustained winds of 111 mph or more.

Kingston, Jamaica’s capital, is in turmoil as people rush to gather supplies. Prime Minister Andrew Holness has ordered all non-essential government offices to close and told residents of low-lying areas to evacuate.

Jamaica’s Norman Manley International and Sangster International airports will remain closed Tuesday evening. Storm surge is expected to raise water levels up to eight feet, with heavy rains causing flash flooding.

The hurricane caused significant damage in the Caribbean, including four deaths in Grenada, Carriacou, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Carriacou and Petite Martinique suffered severe damage, with 95 percent of roofs lost. Communications and electricity were knocked out on these islands.

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines reported immense destruction and one death, with significant damage to homes, schools and churches. Union Island and other nearby islands were severely affected.

Beryl’s rapid intensification from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in 42 hours is rare and attributed to above-average sea surface temperatures. It is the first major hurricane of the Atlantic season, which continues through late November.

Barbados was spared the worst of Beryl, although some fishing boats were lost. Prime Minister Mia Mottley acknowledged that the situation could have been much worse.

Journalists from Jamaica, Barbados, Grenada, Saint Vincent, Saint Lucia, Mexico City and Seoul contributed to this report.