July 16, 2005

Thousands evacuate as powerful Emily nears Jamaica

By Horace Helps

KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Thousands of Jamaicans took
refuge in schools and churches on Saturday and troops patrolled
the streets for looters as dangerous Hurricane Emily roared
toward the Caribbean island.

Emily's top winds reached 140 mph (225 kph), making it a
Category 4 storm on the five-stage hurricane scale, capable of
causing major damage to buildings.

The storm was expected to move within about 60 miles of
Jamaica's south coast later in the day, likely meaning
hurricane-force winds and a pounding storm surge for vulnerable
lowlands along the shore.

Thousands of people moved from their homes in the
flood-prone town of Portmore, just outside Kingston, and other
areas that have been swamped in past hurricanes. But some
stubborn residents refused to leave the old pirate town of Port
Royal, located on a narrow spit of land south of Kingston.

"They say that a hurricane is coming, but I hear that all
the time and little or nothing happens," said Port Royal
resident Cecil Barham, 42. "I am willing to take my chances
again by staying right here at home."

Much of Port Royal, a bawdy haven for the legendary pirates
of the Spanish Main four centuries ago, was cast into the sea
by an earthquake in 1692.

The new threat from Emily came as Jamaica was tallying the
damage from Hurricane Dennis, which killed one person when it
swept along the north shore on July 7. Dennis killed 70 other
people in Haiti, Cuba and the United States.

At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT), the center of Emily was about 140
miles south-southeast of Kingston and was moving to the
west-northwest at about 18 mph (29 kph), the U.S. National
Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Emily had weakened dramatically Friday as its maximum
sustained winds dropped to 105 mph (175 kph). But it grew again
on Saturday with top winds of 140 mph (225 kph).

In additional to Jamaica, storm warnings were in effect for
the Cayman Islands and the south coast of Haiti. Forecasters
said Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula would probably be under a storm
watch later Saturday.

The hurricane center's long-range forecast had the storm
reaching Yucatan late on Sunday, crossing the Gulf of Mexico
and striking near the Texas-Mexico border early Wednesday.

Forecasters said Emily could drop 5 to 8 inches (13-20 cm)
of rain on Jamaica and 15 inches (38 cm) in the mountains,
raising the prospect of deadly flash floods and mudslides.

Jamaican authorities sent hundreds of troops and police
into the streets to prevent looting, a problem in past
hurricanes. Some residents refuse to leave their homes, putting
their lives in danger during big storms, because they fear
losing their possessions to looters.

Emily threatened Jamaica after slamming Grenada and
Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday and Thursday.

Grenada, still trying to pick up the pieces after the
devastating passage of Hurricane Ivan last September, sustained
more damage to houses and hospitals and one person was killed
in a mudslide.