Hurricane Beryl ravages Caribbean, heads for Mexico’s top tourist destinations

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Hurricane Beryl churned over the Cayman Islands on Thursday as it took aim at some of Mexico’s top tourist resorts, after belting Jamaica with winds that uprooted trees and tore apart buildings.

Over the past few days, Beryl, now at Category 2 strength, has left behind a deadly trail of destruction across several smaller Caribbean islands.

At least 10 people are know dead as a result of the storm, a number that could rise, especially in the eastern Caribbean as communications are restored on islands devastated by extensive flooding and powerful winds.

“We’re happy to be alive, happy that the damage was not more extensive,” said Joseph Patterson, a bee keeper active in local politics who lives in the southwestern Jamaican town of Bogue in St Elizabeth parish. He described downed power lines, roads blocked with debris and “tremendous damage” to local farms.

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Around 1,000 people hunkered down in shelters on Wednesday evening, Richard Thompson, acting head of Jamaica’s disaster agency told local media. So far, only one death has been attributed to Beryl, he said.

More than half of the customers of the island nation’s main electricity company were without power on Thursday afternoon.

Beryl’s center skirted Jamaica’s southern coast, pummeling communities as a powerful Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale before weakening slightly later in the day.

Its winds are expected to slow further over next day or two, but will likely remain at hurricane strength until it approaches Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

By Thursday afternoon, Beryl had crossed over the Cayman Islands. The unusually fierce, early hurricane was located about 135 miles (217 kilometers) west of Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands that make up the British territory, according to the latest advisory from the US National Hurricane Center.

It was on a path to strike the popular Mexican beach resort of Tulum, on the Yucatan peninsula’s eastern coast, later on Thursday night or early Friday morning.

Beryl’s maximum sustained winds had dipped to 110 mph (177 kph), and was dumping 4-6 inches (10-15 centimeters) of rain on the Cayman Islands, where life-threatening surf and rip currents were possible, the NHC said. A similar amount of rainfall is expected over Mexico’s Yucatan.

Tourists beware

Mexico’s top tourist destination Cancun is a short distance from Tulum, both located where Beryl is forecast to cross.

Earlier on Thursday, Cancun’s international airport was thronged with tourists hoping to catch last flights out before the full fury of the hurricane hits. Around 100 flights have been canceled, according to a post on X from the state governor.

Workers could be seen filling up sand bags and boarding up shop and hotel doors and windows.

Mexico’s defense ministry opened around 120 storm shelters in the area, ahead of expected flooding that will likely hamper transportation.

The country’s major oil platforms, most of which are clustered around the southern Gulf of Mexico’s shallow waters, are not expected to be shut down or otherwise affected.

Offshore oil projects to the north, in US territorial waters, could be hit, according to the hurricane’s expected trajectory.

Chevron Corp said on Thursday that non-essential personnel from its Gulf of Mexico facilities, including workers at its Anchor platform, are being removed due to the approaching storm.

Beryl is the 2024 Atlantic season’s first hurricane and at its peak earlier this week was the earliest Category 5 storm on record.

Jamaica’s two main airports remained shut on Thursday, but Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport is scheduled to reopen early on Friday. A curfew was extended through Thursday by the government.

Earlier in the week, Beryl slammed into St. Vincent and the Grenadines and “flattened” Union Island, Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves told local radio. More than 90 percent of buildings suffered extensive damages. Reconstruction in the area will require “a Herculean effort,” Gonsalves added.

There were at least three confirmed fatalities on the islands chain and crop damage was widespread, senior officials told Reuters.

In Grenada, Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell had described “Armageddon-like” conditions following the hurricane’s passage, while also confirming three deaths.

In Venezuela, at least three people had died and another four were listed as missing.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has forecast a large number of major hurricanes in what it has predicted will be an “extraordinary” storm season this year. The season runs from the start of June to the end of November

Beryl’s destructive power, coming so early in the hurricane season, underscores the consequences of a warmer Atlantic Ocean. Scientists say human-caused climate change is likely causing the creeping temperatures, which in turn fuel extreme weather.

Read more:

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