© 2024 Boise State Public Radio
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Hurricane Beryl blasts past Jamaica and Caymans on its way to Mexico

People place plywood over windows as they make last-minute preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Kingston, Jamaica, on Wednesday.
Joe Raedle
/
Getty Images South America
People place plywood over windows as they make last-minute preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Kingston, Jamaica, on Wednesday.

Updated July 04, 2024 at 17:04 PM ET

Hurricane Beryl lashed Jamaica overnight and passed just south of the Cayman Islands on Thursday morning before continuing on to popular tourist areas of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.

Beryl hit Jamaica as a Category 4 storm and by Thursday afternoon had weakened some but still forged on as a still-powerful Category 2, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).

At 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, the NHC said the center of Beryl was moving across the northwestern Caribbean Sea, pushing dangerous 110 mile-per-hour winds.

"Strong winds, dangerous storm surge and damaging waves expected on the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico by early Friday,” the NHC said.

The Yucatán is home to travel hot spots like Cancún, Cozumel and Tulum.

The NHC reported large swells have been affecting coastlines in the Caymans, as well as Cuba and Jamaica, and that the potentially “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions” that could accompany those swells should be expected across the U.S. Gulf Coast, eastern Mexico — including the Yucatán Peninsula — and portions of Central America too.

Beryl's maximum sustained winds decreased to 115 miles per hour overnight after being downgraded from a Category 5 on Tuesday. It killed at least seven people, slashed power, destroyed buildings and blocked roads as it tore through Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as northern Venezuela, according to The Associated Press.

“The good news is that Beryl has begun weakening a little bit,” NHC Director Michael Brennan said in a lateTuesday video update. “But those peak winds are only going to come down very slowly over the next couple of days, and we’re still expecting Beryl to be a powerful major hurricane when it reaches Jamaica.”

Storm clouds hover over the mountains as people make last-minute preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Kingston, Jamaica on Wednesday.
Joe Raedle / Getty Images South America
/
Getty Images South America
Storm clouds hover over the mountains as people make last-minute preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Kingston, Jamaica on Wednesday.

The NHC warned that Beryl could cause flash flooding and mudslides from heavy rainfall in much of Jamaica and parts of Haiti, and that mountainous areas could experience "destructive" wind gusts.

All three of Jamaica’s international airports were closed on Wednesday, and officials say the island’s electricity and water service would likely be shut off as a precaution to prevent fires and protect equipment.

Storm clouds hover over the mountains as people make last-minute preparations for the arrival of Hurricane Beryl in Kingston, Jamaica on Wednesday.

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared a “major disaster area” and implemented an island-wide curfew from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. local time, based on what he called the “strength, path and potential threat” posed by Beryl.

“This is to ensure the safety of everyone during the passage of the storm and prevent any movement with the intent to carry out criminal activity,” Holness said in an Instagram video.

Jamaica’s size — at some 146 miles long and 51 miles at its widest point — made it an unlikely target of a direct hit. Only two hurricanes have made landfall there in the last 40 years, CNN noted: Sandy in 2012 and Gilbert in 1988.

The NHC has a hurricane warning in place for all three of the Cayman Islands and for parts of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula from Puerto Costa Maya to Cancún, including Cozumel.

While the storm weakened Thursday, it was forecast to remain a hurricane until it makes landfall on the Yucatán Peninsula. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 175 miles.

Beryl is expected to drop four to six inches of rain, with localized amounts of 10 inches, Thursday into Friday along the Yucatán and scattered flash flooding is anticipated. Storm surge along the east coast of the peninsula could be as much as four to six feet above ground level in areas of onshore winds within the hurricane warning area.

Family members survey their home destroyed in the passing of Hurricane Beryl, in Ottley Hall, St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday.
Lucanus Ollivierre / AP
/
AP
Family members survey their home destroyed in the passing of Hurricane Beryl, in Ottley Hall, St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday.

Caribbean islands are taking stock of widespread damage

Family members survey their home destroyed in the passing of Hurricane Beryl, in Ottley Hall, St. Vincent and the Grenadines on Tuesday.

In Jamaica, journalist Nick Davis, who is based in Kingston, told NPR's Morning Edition that trees and power lines were down and some 400,000 people were without power. There have been no reports of injuries or deaths as first responders assessed the damage after daybreak.

Beryl wreaked havoc on several countries in the eastern Caribbean Sea. Photos emerging from the hardest-hit islandsshow roofs torn from buildings, fishing vessels ripped apart androads flooded with water and sand.

Some of the worst damage appears to have occurred in Carriacou and Petite Martinique, two small islands in Grenada.

Officials said about 98% of buildings on the islands — which are home to some 6,000 people — had been damaged or destroyed, including Carriacou’s main health facility, according to The New York Times. Three storm-related fatalities have been confirmed there so far, per the AP.

“The possibility that there may be more fatalities remains a grim reality as movement is still highly restricted,” Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Two other deaths have been reported in northern Venezuela’s Sucre state, where authorities said another five people are unaccounted for and a total of 25,000 have been affected by heavy rains, winds and river flooding from the outer bands of the storm.

Venezuela’s Vice President Delcy Rodríguez was injured after being hit by a falling tree while visiting one of the affected towns, CNN reports.

The country of St. Vincent and the Grenadines was also hit hard, with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves announcing at a press conference that 90% of the houses on Union Island — which is about 3 miles long and home to some 3,000 people — have been damaged or destroyed.

“The Union Island airport's roof is gone,” Gonsalves said, per CBS News. “It's no more.”

As damage assessment and recovery efforts get underway, offers of help are also flooding in.

President Biden said at a Tuesday news conference that “people in impacted islands and communities are in our prayers, and we stand by to provide assistance to them.”

The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit World Central Kitchen also announced on Tuesday that it has teams mobilizing to distribute food — starting with sandwiches — to people in need across the region including in Antigua, Grenada, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

A graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows the expected arrival time of strong winds from Hurricane Beryl, approaching the eastern parts of Mexico and Texas by the weekend.
/ National Hurricane Center
/
National Hurricane Center
A graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows the expected arrival time of strong winds from Hurricane Beryl, approaching the eastern parts of Mexico and Texas by the weekend.

As Beryl heads toward the Gulf of Mexico, Texas could be at risk

As Jamaicans hunker down for the storm, countries in the northwestern Caribbean Sea and western Gulf of Mexico are warned they could be next as Beryl moves west.

It says tropical storm conditions are expected along the south coast of Hispaniola on Wednesday, and possible along the coast of Belize by Thursday or early Friday.

Hurricane conditions are possible along portions of the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula as soon as late Thursday.

The NHC expects Beryl to continue moving west as a hurricane, albeit with some weakening possible over the next day or so, and warned that people with property or facilities in southern Texas should closely monitor Beryl’s progress.

In the U.S., officials are urging residents of coastal Texas to “keep an eye on the Gulf this holiday week.”

The Texas Division of Emergency Management announced Tuesday that residents and visitors in coastal areas should heed local warnings and have a plan ready in case of bad weather, particularly over the weekend.

“While Texans take time to enjoy the holiday weekend with family and friends, it’s important to stay weather aware, pay close attention to the rapidly-changing forecasts, and don’t be caught without an emergency plan,” said Texas Emergency Management Chief Nim Kidd.

Meteorologist Eric Berger told Houston Public Media that while Beryl’s potential impact on the central Texas coast is still uncertain, it’s not likely to strike with the same intensity it’s bringing to the Caribbean.

“My sense of what will happen is we will see enhanced rain chances Saturday and especially Sunday but I am not anticipating a hurricane to form in the Gulf and move into the central Texas coast,” he added.

A fisherman looks at fishing vessels damaged by Hurricane Beryl at the Bridgetown Fisheries in Barbados on Monday.
Ricardo Mazalan / AP
/
AP
A fisherman looks at fishing vessels damaged by Hurricane Beryl at the Bridgetown Fisheries in Barbados on Monday.

Officials say Beryl embodies the risks of climate change

Beryl is anunusually strong hurricane for this early in the season, fueled by record-high ocean temperatures that have been driven by climate change — which is making powerful storms more common.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an extra active Atlantic hurricane season, which spans June through November.

As they prepare for Beryl, some Jamaican officials are pointing to the storm as an example of how developing countries bear the brunt of climate change.

Holness, the prime minister, said in a televised speech Tuesday that as the earliest Category 5 hurricane on record, Beryl highlights the growing impact of climate change on Small Island Developing States like Jamaica.

“While our carbon emissions are miniscule, our region bears the brunt of the impacts of climate change,” he added. “This hurricane further highlights the urgent need for global climate action and targeted support to enhance resilience against the escalating dangers of climate change.”

Echoing those remarks, Jamaican Senator Delroy Williams told CNN that the international community must do more to widen coastal cities’ access to climate change-related funding and improve infrastructure in low-lying areas.

Beryl made that conversation extra personal for Simon Stiell, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and a native of Carriacou.

His late grandmother’s home was destroyed, and his parents’ property was damaged, his office told the AFP news agency. He called climate change “not a tomorrow problem.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Tags
Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
Willem Marx
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Alex Leff is a digital editor on NPR's International Desk, helping oversee coverage from journalists around the world for its growing Internet audience. He was previously a senior editor at GlobalPost and PRI, where he wrote stories and edited the work of international correspondents.

You make stories like this possible.

The biggest portion of Boise State Public Radio's funding comes from readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

Your donation today helps make our local reporting free for our entire community.