July 12th, 2024

Hurricane Beryl razes southeast Caribbean islands as Atlantic’s earliest Category 4 storm


By Dánica Coto And Kofi Jones, The Associated Press on July 1, 2024.

People disassemble a beach bar's awning in preparation for Hurricane Beryl, in Bridgetown, Barbados, Sunday, June 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados (AP) – Hurricane Beryl ripped off doors, windows and roofs in homes across the southeastern Caribbean on Monday after making landfall on the island of Carriacou in Grenada as the earliest Category 4 storm in the Atlantic, fueled by its record warm waters.

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said late Monday that one person had died and he could not yet say if there were others because authorities had not been able to assess the situation on the islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, where there were initial reports of major damage but communications were largely down.

“We do hope there aren’t any other fatalities or any injuries,” he said. “But bear in mind the challenge we have in Carriacou and Petite Martinique.” Mitchel added that the government will send people first thing Tuesday morning to evaluate the situation on the islands.

Streets from St. Lucia island south to Grenada were strewn with shoes, trees, downed power lines and other debris scattered by winds up to 150 mph (240 kph). The hurricane snapped banana trees in half and left cows lying dead in green pastures, with homes made of tin and plywood tilting precariously nearby.

“Right now, I’m real heartbroken,” said Vichelle Clark King as she surveyed her damaged shop in the Barbadian capital of Bridgetown that was filled with sand and water. Beryl was still swiping the southeast Caribbean on Monday evening as it pushed into the Caribbean Sea on a track heading just south of Jamaica and toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula by late Thursday as a Category 1 storm.

Late Monday, Beryl’s winds increased to 155 mph (250 kph), on the brink of Category 5 strength.

Beryl was about 575 miles (925 kilometers) east-southeast of Isla Beata in the Dominican Republic and was moving west-northwest at 21 mph (33 kph), with hurricane conditions possible in Jamaica by Wednesday.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, and a tropical storm warning for the entire southern coast of Hispaniola, the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

“Beryl is expected to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane as its moves over the eastern Caribbean,” the National Hurricane Center said.

The last strong hurricane to hit the southeast Caribbean was Hurricane Ivan 20 years ago, which killed dozens of people in Grenada.

On Monday afternoon, officials received “reports of devastation” from Carriacou and surrounding islands, said Terence Walters, Grenada’s national disaster coordinator. Mitchell said he would travel to Carriacou as soon as it’s safe, noting there’s been an “extensive” storm surge.

Grenada officials had to evacuate patients to a lower floor after hospital roof was damaged, he said.

“There is the likelihood of even greater damage,” he told reporters. “We have no choice but to continue to pray.”

In Barbados, Wilfred Abrahams, minister of home affairs and information, said drones – which are faster than crews fanning across the island – would assess damage once Beryl passes.

Historic hurricane

Beryl strengthened from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 42 hours – a feat accomplished only six other times in Atlantic hurricane history, and with Sept. 1 as the previous earliest date, according to hurricane expert Sam Lillo.

It also was the earliest Category 4 Atlantic hurricane on record, besting Hurricane Dennis, which became a Category 4 storm on July 8, 2005.

Beryl amassed its strength from record warm waters that are hotter now than they would be at the peak of hurricane season in September, said hurricane specialist and storm surge expert Michael Lowry.

Beryl also marked the farthest east that a hurricane has formed in the tropical Atlantic in June, breaking a record set in 1933, according to Philip Klotzbach, Colorado State University hurricane researcher.

On Sunday night, Beryl formed a new eye, or center, something that usually weakens a storm slightly as it grows larger in area. Experts say it’s now back to strengthening.

Jaswinderpal Parmar of Fresno, California, who was among the thousands who traveled to Barbados for Saturday’s Twenty20 World Cup cricket final, said he and his family were now stuck there with scores of other fans, their flights canceled on Sunday.

He said by phone that it’s the first time he has experienced a hurricane – he and his family have been praying, as well as taking calls from concerned friends and family as far away as India.

“We couldn’t sleep last night,” Parmar said.

Looking ahead

Even as Beryl advanced in the Caribbean, government officials warned about a cluster of thunderstorms mimicking its path that have a 70% chance of becoming a tropical depression.

“There’s always a concern when you have back-to-back storms,” Lowry said. “If two storms move over the same area or nearby, the first storm weakens the infrastructure, so the secondary system doesn’t need to be as strong to have serious impacts.”

Beryl is the second named storm in the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall in northeast Mexico and killed four people.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicted the 2024 hurricane season was likely to be well above average, with between 17 and 25 named storms. The forecast called for as many as 13 hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 14 named storms, seven of them hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

___

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Associated Press videographer Lucanus Ollivierre in Kingstown, St. Vincent contributed to this report.

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