Hurricane Beryl kills five as it heads towards Jamaica

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Hurricane Beryl churned towards Jamaica Tuesday after killing at least five people and causing widespread destruction across the southeastern Caribbean, threatening deadly winds and storm surge as it approached.

The powerful hurricane, which is rare so early in the season, weakened Tuesday but was still an “extremely dangerous” Category 4 storm, and is expected to pass “near or over” Jamaica on Wednesday, forecasters said.

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Beryl is the first storm since US National Hurricane Center records began to reach the Category 4 level in June, and the earliest to reach Category 5 in July.

“In Jamaica, you want to be in your safe place by nightfall and be prepared to shelter in place through the day on Wednesday,” the NHC’s director Michael Brennan said in a video update.

A hurricane warning was in place for the island nation, according to the NHC, which said rain and flash flooding was to be expected in addition to the life-threatening wind and storm surge.

Across Jamaica, emergency response preparations were under way including shelters stocking up on provisions, people safeguarding their homes and boats being pulled from the water.

“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,” Prime Minister Andrew Holness said on X, formerly Twitter.

Apart from Jamaica, hurricane warnings were also issued in the Cayman Islands, which Beryl is “expected to pass near or over” on Wednesday night or early Thursday, according to the NHC.

Beryl has already left a trail of death in its wake: At least three people were killed in Grenada where Beryl made landfall Monday as well as one in St Vincent and the Grenadines and one in Venezuela, officials said.

Grenada’s 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.

“We’ve had virtually no communication with Carriacou in the last 12 hours except briefly this morning by satellite phone,” Mitchell told a news conference.

The 13.5-square mile (35-square kilometer) island is home to around 9,000 people. At least two people there died, Mitchell said, with a third killed on the country’s main island of Grenada when a tree fell on a house.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines one person on the island of Bequia was reported dead from the storm, and in Venezuela’s northeastern coastal state of Sucre a man died when swept away by a flooded river, officials there said.

World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus expressed concern about the region, saying on X that his organization “stands ready to support the national authorities with any health needs.”

‘Alarming precedent’

Experts say it is extremely rare for such a powerful storm to form this early in the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from early June to late November.

Oceans are the main drivers of hurricanes, and there are many factors that go into their formation and intensity -- but heat is a significant one.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said Beryl “sets an alarming precedent for what is expected to be a very active hurricane season.”

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in late May that it expects this year to be an “extraordinary” hurricane season, with up to seven storms of Category 3 or above.

Climate crisis ‘chief culprit’

UN climate chief Simon Stiell, who has family on the island of Carriacou, said climate change was “pushing disasters to record-breaking new levels of destruction.”

“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 said Monday, reporting that his parents’ property was damaged.

Beryl had maximum sustained winds of 155 miles (250 kilometers) per hour as it headed towards Jamaica and the Cayman Islands on Tuesday, the NHC said in its latest update from 2100 GMT.

A hurricane watch and tropical storm warnings have also been issued for parts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

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