July 15th, 2024

Canadians with Caribbean ties scramble to escape powerful Hurricane Beryl


By Joe Bongiorno, The Canadian Press on July 3, 2024.

MONTREAL – George Grant last checked on his mother Wednesday afternoon as Hurricane Beryl bore down on his native Jamaica. In the hilly centre of the island, she is far away from potential flooding but exposed to strong winds. Her shutters were down and her fridge stocked, Grant said, and at age 80, she exuded the calm of someone who has seen a lifetime of hurricanes.

For now, Grant, honorary consul for Jamaica in Montreal, said the situation is “under control,” but as the hurricane rages, Canadians with Caribbean ties scrambled to get out of harm’s way.

The Category 4 storm has already killed at least six people and caused significant damage in the southeast Caribbean, and Grant said some Jamaican-Montrealers are now stuck on the island nation, unable to secure transport back to Canada with the storm grounding flights.

“I know that there are persons who were not able to get to the airport and Montrealers who were in Jamaica would have to ride out the storm there,” said Grant. He said he has been hearing from Montrealers worried about the safety of loved ones in Jamaica.

Kris Bennett, the spokesperson of Caribbean Coalition Network of Montreal, was born in Guyana but also has family in Barbados, one of the countries that was hit by Beryl.

“A lot of people are concerned. They’re really worried to hear back from the families. We’ve all been sending messages back and forth,” Bennett said in an interview.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said on the X social media platform that the government is monitoring the situation and urging Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to the region.

“For any Canadians in the region, please seek refuge in a safe place and closely follow our travel advice and alerts through Global Affairs,” she said, thanking Air Transat for flying home Canadians on Tuesday from Jamaica’s Montego Bay region. The airline said in a statement that it sent three “rescue flights” to Jamaica on Tuesday, all of which landed safely in Montreal and Toronto on Wednesday morning.

The United States National Hurricane Center says Beryl is forecast to be at or near major hurricane strength when it passes near or over Jamaica on Wednesday, near the Cayman Islands on Thursday and into Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Friday.

As Beryl roared through the Caribbean Sea, rescue crews in southeastern islands fanned out to determine the extent of the damage the hurricane inflicted on Carriacou, an island in Grenada. Three people were reported killed in Grenada and Carriacou and another in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said. Two other deaths were reported in northern Venezuela, where five people are missing, officials said.

Jamaica was under a state of emergency as the island was declared a disaster zone hours before the impact of Hurricane Beryl. The country’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness said the disaster zone declaration will remain for the next seven days. He also announced an island-wide curfew between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

Back in Montreal, Grant said he had been in touch with disaster preparedness officials in Jamaica and so far has not heard of any casualties, despite heavy winds and rains.

Nonetheless, he said fundraising is already underway with aid being collected by a coalition of Montreal’s Caribbean community groups to be donated to the affected countries.

“We’re used to hurricanes. What’s unusual about this hurricane is how early in the season it has happened, and the strength of the hurricane,” he said, explaining that normally a storm of Beryl’s magnitude happens in August or September.

And with several months to go in hurricane season, Grant is concerned climate change will mean an increasing number of stronger storms that will devastate Caribbean livelihoods. Battered homes, businesses and hotels could also mean a greater need for Caribbean Montrealers to support family back home.

For its part, the Canadian Red Cross announced the launch of a campaign to help people affected by the powerful storm. “Money raised will enable the Red Cross to provide immediate relief, support recovery efforts, and resilience and preparedness activities for future events,” it said in news release on Wednesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 3, 2024.

– With files from The Associated Press.

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