Hurricane Beryl kills six, causes ‘immense destruction’ in Caribbean

Beryl churns towards Jamaica as it sweeps through the southeast Caribbean, leaving widespread destruction in its wake.

Hurricane Beryl is barrelling towards Jamaica after battering the southeastern Caribbean, killing at least six people across the region and flattening some 90 percent of homes on one island in the Grenadines archipelago.

Beryl – the earliest storm on record to reach Category 5, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson Scale – was expected to start losing intensity on Tuesday evening. But forecasters said it would still be an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm when it passes near or over Jamaica on Wednesday and near the Cayman Islands on Thursday.

Scientists cited human-caused climate change as the likely culprit for the storm’s rapid strengthening.

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(Al Jazeera)

On Tuesday night, the storm was located about 300 miles (480km) east-southeast of the Jamaican capital, Kingston, with top winds of 150mph (250kmph), and officials there warned residents to gather provisions and safeguard their homes.

“I urge all Jamaicans to stock up on food, batteries, candles, and water. Secure your critical documents and remove any trees or items that could endanger your property,” Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said on X.

“Everyone, including those living alone, should take these necessary steps now,” he wrote. “It’s better to be prepared than to regret not preparing.”

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) in the United States said Jamaica appears to be in the direct path of Beryl and that the storm would bring life-threatening winds, heavy rainfall and storm surges to the island nation.

“We are most concerned about Jamaica, where we are expecting the core of a major hurricane to pass near or over the island,” said Michael Brennan, the director of the NHC, in an online briefing.

“You want to be in a safe place where you can ride out the storm by nightfall [on Tuesday]. Be prepared to stay in that location through Wednesday.”

‘Grim situation’

Beryl has already left a trail of death and devastation in its wake.

Three people were reported killed in Grenada 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. Some 25,000 people in that area also were affected by heavy rainfall from Beryl.

This handout satellite picture courtesy of Maxar Technologies shows an overview of Northeastern Carriacou island, Grenada on July 2, 2024 in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl.
This handout satellite picture courtesy of Maxar Technologies shows an overview of Northeastern Carriacou island, Grenada on July 2, 2024 in the aftermath of Hurricane Beryl [Photo by Maxar Technologies/ AFP]

In Grenada, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said the island of Carriacou, which was struck by the eye of the storm, has been all but cut off, with houses, telecommunications and fuel facilities there flattened. Two of the three deaths recorded in Grenada happened on Carriacou, he said.

“The situation is grim,” Mitchell told a news conference on Tuesday. “There is no power and there is almost complete destruction of homes and buildings on the island. The roads are not passable, and in many instances, they are cut off because of the large quantity of debris strewn all over the streets.”

Mitchell added: “The possibility that there may be more fatalities remains a grim reality as movement is still highly restricted.”

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said the hurricane left “immense destruction” in its wake, including the destruction of some 90 percent of homes on Union Island. He said “similar levels of devastation” were expected on the islands of Myreau and Canouan.

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

Mikey Hutchinson, a Grenadian journalist, told Al Jazeera he had seen destruction in many parts of the mainland, with roofs ripped off homes and agricultural land badly damaged.

“I’ve seen nutmeg, I’ve seen cocoa, I’ve seen coconut – I’ve seen just about everything destroyed by this powerful catastrophic hurricane,” he said.

“We are very concerned. We’ve experienced back in 2004 a hurricane similar to this one. It was more devastating. It took down about 90 to 95 percent of our houses and so it was really hard to build back. And so having experienced a hurricane of that magnitude and then yesterday again having to experience a Category 4 hurricane with threats of more to come, it raises our anxiety,” he added.

One of the homes that Beryl damaged in Carriacou belongs to the parents of United Nations Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell. In a statement, Stiell said the climate crisis is worsening faster than expected.

“Whether in my homeland of Carriacou, hammered by Hurricane Beryl, or in the heatwaves and floods crippling communities in some of the world’s largest economies, it’s clear that the climate crisis is pushing disasters to record-breaking new levels of destruction,” he said.

“Disasters on a scale that used to be the stuff of science fiction are becoming meteorological facts, and the climate crisis is the chief culprit,” he added.

Beryl is the Atlantic season’s first hurricane, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said it “sets an alarming precedent for what is expected to be a very active hurricane season”.

Scientists said climate change likely contributed to Beryl’s early formation, while also driving how quickly it intensified. Global warming has helped push temperatures in the North Atlantic to record highs, said Christopher Rozoff, an atmospheric scientist at the US-based National Center for Atmospheric Research. The warmer waters lead to more evaporation, which fuels more intense hurricanes featuring higher wind speeds, he said.

Beryl jumped from a Category 1 to a Category 4 storm in under 10 hours, according to Andra Garner, a Rowan University meteorologist. That marked the fastest intensification ever recorded before September, the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season, she added.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, meanwhile, predicted that the 2024 hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, would 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.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies