Hurricane Beryl churns toward Mexico after leaving destruction in Jamaica and eastern Caribbean

Published 1:29 pm Thursday, July 4, 2024

Hurricane Beryl ripped off roofs in Jamaica, jumbled fishing boats in Barbados and damaged or destroyed 95% of homes on a pair of islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines before rumbling past the Cayman Islands early Thursday and taking aim at Mexico’s Caribbean coast. At least nine people were killed.

What had been the earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic weakened to a Category 2 by the afternoon.

Jack Beven, senior hurricane specialist at the U.S. Hurricane Center, said “the biggest immediate threat now that the storm is moving away from the Cayman Islands is landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula” in Mexico.

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The storm’s center was about 135 miles (215 kilometers) west of Grand Cayman island and 275 miles (445 kilometers) east-southeast of Tulum, Mexico. It had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (about 30 kph).

Beryl’s eye wall brushed by Jamaica’s southern coast on Wednesday afternoon. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said Jamaica had not seen the “worst of what could possibly happen.”

On Thursday morning in Kingston, telephone poles and trees were blocking the roadways.

Authorities confirmed a young man died on Wednesday after he was swept into a storm water drain while trying to retrieve a ball. A woman also died after a house collapsed on her.

Residents took advantage of a break in the rain to begin clearing debris.

Sixty-five percent of the island remained without electricity, along with a lack of water and limited telecommunications. Government officials were assessing the damage, but it was hampered by the lack of communication mainly in southern parishes that suffered the most damage.

A visit to the south-central parish of Clarendon saw residents attempting to mend damaged roofs and clear downed trees. Many roadways in the area remained partially blocked from downed electricity and telecommunication poles.

Seymour, armed with a machete as he and other residents attempted to clear debris, was grateful that the lives of him and his neighbors were spared.

“I am just grateful for life although Beryl destroyed a lot of roofs and we don’t have any water or light (electricity),” he said, declining to give his last name.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said that “Weakening is forecast during the next day or two, though Beryl is forecast to remain a hurricane until it makes landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula.”

Mexico’s popular Caribbean coast prepared shelters, evacuated some small outlying coastal communities and even moved sea turtle eggs off beaches threatened by storm surge.

In Playa del Carmen, most businesses were closed Thursday and some were boarding up windows as tourists jogged by and some locals walked their dogs under sunny skies. In Tulum, Mexico’s Navy patrolled the streets telling tourists in Spanish and English to prepare for the storm’s arrival. Everything was scheduled to shut down by midday.

Francisco Bencomo, General manager of Hotel Umi in Tulum said all of their guests had left. “With these conditions, we’ll be completely locked down,” he said, adding there were no plans to have guests return before July 10th.

“We’ve cut the gas and electricity. We also have an emergency floor where two maintenance employees will be locking down,” he said from the hotel. “We have them staying in the room farthest from the beach and windows.”

“I hope we have the least impact possible on the hotel, that the hurricane moves quickly through Tulum, and that it’s nothing serious,” he said.

Myriam Setra, a 34-year-old tourist from Dallas, Texas was having a sandwich on the beach Thursday. Her flight home was scheduled for Friday, but Beryl had not persuaded her to leave early.

“I figured I’d rather be stuck in Mexico for an extra day, than go back two days early to the United States,” Setra said. “So, went out and bought a bunch of groceries. Figured we’d get the last of the sun in today, too. And then it’s just going to be hunker down and just stay indoors until hopefully it passes.”

The premier of the Cayman Islands, Juliana O’Connor, thanked residents and visitors Thursday for contributing to the “collective calm” ahead of Beryl by following storm protocols.

“We have done everything possible that we could have done to face the various challenges ahead of us,” she said in a press briefing.

The head of Mexico’s civil defense agency, Laura Velázquez, said Thursday that Beryl is expected to be a Category 1 hurricane when it hits a relatively unpopulated stretch of Mexico’s Caribbean coast south of Tulum early Friday.

But once Beryl re-emerges into the Gulf of Mexico a day later, she said it is again expected to build to hurricane strength and could hit right around the Mexico-U.S. border, at Matamoros. That area was already soaked in June by Tropical Storm Alberto.