July 16, 2005

Fierce Hurricane Emily blasts along Jamaica coast

By Horace Helps

KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Hurricane Emily roared past
Jamaica's southern coast on Saturday, hammering the Caribbean
island with torrential rains and pounding surf as Mexico began
evacuations in anticipation of the storm's 155 mph winds.

Emily's power was on the verge of making it a rare Category
5 storm on the five-step scale of hurricane intensity, one
capable of destroying buildings.

Although Emily's raging core and worst winds stayed in the
Caribbean Sea more than 100 miles off Jamaica's southern coast,
the storm was large enough and strong enough to trigger
flooding and mudslides on the island, home to about 2.6 million

At 2 p.m. EDT (1800 GMT), the center of Emily was about 135
miles southwest of Kingston and was moving to the
west-northwest at about 18 mph (29 kph), the U.S. National
Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Forecasters said Emily would skirt the Cayman Islands, a
tiny British colony, before pushing across the Caribbean and
striking Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula on Sunday.

In Jamaica, thousands of people had moved from their homes
in flood-prone areas to schools and churches on Friday as
hundreds of soldiers and police took to the streets to deter

Floods and mudslides hit the southern parishes of St.
Elizabeth and Clarendon but disaster officials said no
fatalities had been reported by early afternoon.

The island's main airports in Kingston and Montego Bay were
closed. Some hospitals sent patients with minor ailments home
early to make room for storm victims.


Some stubborn residents refused to leave the old pirate
town of Port Royal, located on a vulnerable, narrow spit of
land on the harbor south of Kingston. Much of the town, a bawdy
haven for the buccaneers of the Spanish Main four centuries
ago, was cast into the sea by an earthquake in 1692.

"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.

The Mexican government issued a hurricane watch for the
palm-fringed Yucatan coast around Cancun, one of the world's
most popular vacation destinations, and hotels recommended
guests cut short their vacations and return home.

Along the coast, fishing communities were evacuated, shop
windows were boarded up and locals stocked up on food and
gasoline. Around Cancun, schools and sports centers were turned
into emergency shelters for up to 40,000 people.

Thousands of troops were drafted to help with evacuation or
rescue drills.

The threat from Emily had come to Jamaica as the island was
still tallying the damage from Hurricane Dennis, which killed
one person when it swept along the northern shore on July 7.
Dennis also killed 70 people in Haiti, Cuba and the United

Emily had weakened dramatically Friday as its maximum
sustained winds dropped to 105 mph (175 kph) but it fed on the
warm waters of the Caribbean Sea and grew rapidly.

Forecasters predicted 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.

The National Hurricane Committee in the Cayman Islands
warned the colony's 45,000 residents to be ready for as much as
8 inches (20 cm) of rain and waves up to 12 feet high along the
south coast of Grand Cayman.

Emily slammed Grenada and Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday
and Thursday.

Few hurricanes reach Category 5 status, with winds over 155
mph (250 kph).

Hurricane Andrew, which hit southern Florida in 1992 and
became the most expensive storm in U.S. history with more than
$25 billion in damage, was a Category 5 with winds of 170 mph
(275 kph). So too was Hurricane Mitch, which had 180 mph(290
kph) winds at its peak. It killed more than 9,000 people in
Central America in 1998. (Additional reporting by Catherine
Bremer in Mexico City)