Jamaica prepares itself for Hurricane Emily

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Jamaicans rushed to stock up on emergency supplies and officials urged coastal areas evacuated Friday as a slightly weakened Hurricane Emily churned toward the Caribbean island after ravaging Grenada.

Packing winds of 115 mph, the second major hurricane of the Atlantic season came unusually early and made its presence felt hundreds of miles away, unleashing heavy surf, gusty winds and torrential rains on islands both sides of the Caribbean Sea.

The category 3 storm was just over 300 miles southeast of Jamaica’s capital and was moving westward at nearly 18 mph, with a turn toward the northwest expected to take it very close to Jamaica today, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

If Emily continues on the same path, the storm will make landfall sometime Wednesday between Tuxpan, Mexico, and Galveston, Texas, about a 600-mile span, hurricane center spokesman Frank Lepore said.

Jamaica posted a hurricane warning. Prime Minister P.J. Patterson ordered government offices to close early Friday and instructed disaster authorities to draw up plans to evacuate thousands of residents in flood-prone coastal areas.

Jamaicans formed long lines at grocery stores to stock up on water, canned food and batteries, only a week after doing the same for Hurricane Dennis, which washed away several homes, damaged crops and flooded roads.

Many islanders refused to seek shelter during Dennis, fearful of leaving their belongings unguarded.

“I’m hoping that those who are in these areas will heed the call to evacuate before it’s too late,” Transport and Works Minister Robert Pickersgill said on RJR radio.

Grenada – still recovering from the devastation of last year’s Hurricane Ivan – declared a national disaster Friday, a day after Emily’s winds tore down at least 100 homes, blasted out windows, sheared off roofs and flooded two hospitals and scores of other buildings.

Landslides and fallen trees blocked roads, streets were flooded and crops were destroyed. At least one person was killed in Grenada, a man whose home was buried under a landslide.

Emily’s winds decreased to about 115 mph Friday evening after reaching a high of 135 mph earlier in the day, making it briefly what meteorologist Stacy Stewart called a “very rare Category 4 hurricane in the Caribbean Sea in the month of July.”

The State Department issued a travel warning for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, which were expected to get hit hard on Sunday, and authorized the departure of non-emergency staff at the U.S. Embassy.

Heavy rains drenched the southeast Dominican Republic and officials warned boaters there to stay in port, saying that the coastline could expect strong electrical storms, whipping winds and waves higher than 10 feet.

The eye of the storm was projected to come within 40 miles of Grand Cayman Island on Sunday, the Cayman Islands government warned residents. Emily’s next direct hit, according to the hurricane center’s projections, was expected to be Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula late Sunday or early Monday.

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