July 16, 2005

Powerful Hurricane Emily blasts past Jamaica

By Horace Helps

KINGSTON, Jamaica (Reuters) - Hurricane Emily, carrying top
winds of up to 155 mph (248 kph), roared past Jamaica on
Saturday, hammering the Caribbean island with torrential rains
and headed for the popular vacation resorts on Mexico's Yucatan

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.

On its current track, the hurricane would slam into the
palm-fringed Yucatan coast late on Sunday or early Monday,
forecasters predicted.

Hotels in the area recommended guests cut short their
vacations and return home, and authorities prepared emergency
shelters with space for tens of thousands of people.

Jamaica was spared a direct hit from Emily. But although
the hurricane's powerful center stayed in the Caribbean Sea
more than 100 miles off Jamaica's southern coast, the storm was
large and strong enough to trigger flooding and mudslides on
the island, home to about 2.6 million people.

The hurricane cut power to some 70,000 homes, flooded
several homes and roads, and washed away seven houses, two of
them from one village in the eastern parish of St. Mary,
officials said.

There were no reports of deaths or injuries.

At 8 p.m. EDT (midnight GMT), the center of Emily was
moving away from Jamaica. It was located about 140 miles
southwest of Montego Bay, Jamaica 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 vacated their homes in
flood-prone areas to schools and churches on Friday as hundreds
of soldiers and police took to the streets to deter looters.
The island's main airports in Kingston and Montego Bay were


In the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Governor Felix
Gonzalez told reporters that of 130,000 tourists holidaying in
the state, 30,000 left on Saturday and another 40,000 were due
to leave on Sunday.

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.

State oil monopoly Pemex said it had shut off 63 oil wells
in the southern Gulf of Mexico, west of Yucatan, and was
evacuating some 15,000 nonessential workers from its rigs. The
closures will hold back roughly a quarter of daily output.

Pemex, a major supplier to the United States, had not
canceled any oil shipments however, a spokeswoman said.

Jamaica was side-swiped by Emily as it tallied 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 States.

Forecasters predicted Emily could drop 5 to 8 inches (13-20
cm) of rain on Jamaica and as much as 15 inches (38 cm) in the

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.

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 in 1998 had 180
mph(290 kph) winds at its peak. It killed more than 9,000
people in Central America.
(Additional reporting by Catherine Bremer in Mexico City and
Anahi Rama in Cancun, Mexico)