September 9, 2004
After Devastating Grenada, Storm Bears Down on Jamaica
KINGSTON, Jamaica, Sept. 9 - Packing winds up to 160 miles an hour, Hurricane Ivan, the third powerful storm to boil up out of the Atlantic this year, bore down on Jamaica on Thursday evening after devastating Grenada. The authorities began evacuating the Florida Keys in anticipation of being hammered this weekend.
Hurricane Ivan killed at least 23 people on Grenada on Wednesday as it ripped through the southern Caribbean, wrecking thousands of houses, including Prime Minister Keith Mitchell's official residence, and breaking open a centuries-old prison, freeing inmates.
The storm clipped the northern coast of Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago, killing at least two other people.
Here in the capital of Jamaica, a tourist island of 2.7 million people that appeared to be directly in the path of the storm, schools closed, businesses and government offices began shutting at noon, and people along the coasts, many in lightly built houses, were encouraged to move to higher ground.
With a direct hit on Jamaica increasingly inevitable, Prime Minister P. J. Patterson urged residents to secure their houses and pray.
"We can avert unnecessary tragedy and minimize damage if we act sensibly," Mr. Patterson said in a broadcast address. "The forces of nature can change in a short time, but we have constantly to be prepared for the worst-case scenario."
In Florida, where residents continued to clean up from Hurricanes Charley and Frances, Gov. Jeb Bush told reporters that bracing for a third storm in less than a month seemed surreal.
"Maybe someone in Hollywood could come up with something like this," Mr. Bush said. "But this is past my imagination."
Forecasters expected Hurricane Ivan to hit Jamaica early Friday and move on to Cuba and arrive in the Florida Keys as early as Sunday morning. It strengthened after hitting Grenada with winds of 145 m.p.h., with some gusts up to 160 m.p.h. registered as it approached Jamaica.
In Florida, Monroe County officials ordered tourists to leave the Keys on Thursday morning and told residents of mobile homes that they should head out of the region by nightfall. The authorities said the mandatory removal of the rest of the 79,000 residents would probably begin early Friday.
The little airport in Key West was packed on Thursday, and northbound traffic grew heavy on the mostly two-lane Overseas Highway, the sole overland link between the Keys and the mainland.
At the Best Western Key Ambassador Resort Inn in Key West, the general manager, Armida Averette, said the 22 guests in her 100-room hotel did not have to be told twice to leave.
"When Hurricane Charley was coming,'' Ms. Averette said, "the guests didn't want to leave. But this time we had no resistance."
Grenada is a small vacation island that grows spices and bananas and was invaded in 1983, when President Ronald Reagan sent American troops after fighting broke out among factions of the leftist government.
Island residents were stunned by the latest hurricane.
"We have really taken a tremendous hit in every respect," Prime Minister Mitchell said in a telephone interview with BBC Radio. "You are talking hundreds of millions of dollars of damage."
In the fighting before the invasion, Maurice Bishop, who had earlier seized power in what he called a revolution, was killed along with associates. Later, the people accused of the killings were tried and given long prison sentences. They were among the prisoners who escaped on Wednesday as the hurricane pummeled the island.
By some estimates, up to 90 percent of the homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed.
"Almost all of the island is wrecked," Terry Ally, a spokesman for the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, said in an interview with Agence France-Presse.
Mr. Mitchell took refuge on a British frigate, the Richmond. Crew members from the Richmond and another nearby British vessel went ashore to help with rescues.
Jamaica has not been hit by a major storm since 1988, when Hurricane Gilbert inflicted heavy damage. That storm was a much less powerful hurricane, rated in Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
At some points, meteorologists have classified Hurricane Ivan in Category 5, with winds of at least 155 m.p.h.
Late Thursday afternoon, with bright sun shining through big clumps of fluffy gray clouds that hung still in the sky, fears grew that Jamaica was about to experience its worst hurricane ever.
"We're nervous," said Marjorie Pottinger, who runs a snack shop in a rickety little wood and tin building that sits on blocks at the edge of a beach near the Port of Kingston. "It makes me feel shaky."
The Save More Super Center grocery store was jammed with people who were stocking up on canned food, bottled water and flashlight batteries.
"It looks like it's going to be bad," Anthony Beckford, a locksmith, said as he wrapped his arms around two big bags of food and a carton of water bottles.
Like many other shoppers, Errol Lawson, who works at a marine engineering company, and Winsome Wood, a secretary at the Labor Ministry, picked up food after having installed window shutters at their cement block house.
"It's going to be rough," Ms. Wood said. "Everything will go flying all over the place."
By early evening, the downtown business district was deserted, with plywood and shutters over doors and windows. Many people said they just could not believe that a killer storm was on the way. Just the same, almost everyone seemed to take precautions.
Lillian Wilmot, a homemaker, said she was in denial.
"I think it's going to go elsewhere," Ms. Wilmot said. "At least I hope so."
Even so, her husband, an insurance adjuster, had put up shutters, and they had plenty of emergency supplies.
People recalled Hurricane Gilbert with a shiver.
"If this is anything like Gilbert," Vincent David, a customs broker, said, "it's going to be quite a blow, even if we don't get the eye."
At his neat house behind a high, whitewashed wall, Carl Maxwell, a baker, said he had just finished reinforcing his roof and cleared his yard of chairs and other objects "that can become missiles.''
As he spoke, his daughter Tanique, 8, nuzzled close to him, clutching her pink and white teddy bear. She was worried, she said with wide eyes and a quick up and down bob of her head.
"I'm taking this very serious," Mr. Maxwell said. "I'm not taking it lightly."