Jamaica Raked by Powerful Hurricane : 115-M.P.H. Winds Kill at Least 4; Storm Heading for Caymans
Hurricane Gilbert took aim at the Cayman Islands after its 115-m.p.h. winds cut a swath of destruction across Jamaica on Monday and left at least four dead on its rampage through the Caribbean.
The hurricane raked the Jamaican capital of Kingston with winds gusting up to 140 m.p.h., forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate, damaging aircraft at the international airport, knocking out electricity and telephone service and destroying dozens of homes, officials said.
“It is the worst natural disaster Jamaica has experienced in its modern history,” Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga said in a radio address in which he appealed for calm among the island’s 2.3 million residents.
However, there were no confirmed deaths in Jamaica that were blamed on the storm.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic, which was sideswiped by Gilbert on Sunday, said the hurricane killed four people, injured six and left hundreds homeless there.
Several thousand evacuees rode out the storm in Kingston’s steel-and-concrete National Arena, while thousands more poured into emergency shelters in schools and churches.
The roof of a hospital in central Jamaica was reported torn off as Gilbert roared across the length of the island.
Gilbert, the third hurricane of the 1988 Atlantic storm season, was born on Saturday night. By Monday it had grown so large that it blanketed almost the entire central Caribbean. Forecasters said Gilbert was the biggest storm to hit the region since hurricane Alan in 1980.
On Monday morning, Gilbert became the first hurricane to make a direct hit on the island of Jamaica since 1951, when Hurricane Charlie killed around 150 people and injured 2,000.
As the eye of the hurricane moved off Jamaica’s western coast Monday night, it was headed for the Cayman Islands, where officials were ordering the evacuation of low-lying coastal areas.
A high-pressure ridge to the north of Gilbert was expected to continue to keep the storm from turning far north, forecasters said, thus reducing the possibility of its striking the U.S. mainland.
Havana Radio, meanwhile, reported that 25,000 people were evacuated from coastal areas in Guantanamo province on the nation’s southeastern coast as Gilbert’s winds and rain began to brush the island.
In Washington, the Navy said that its bases at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, have taken precautionary steps but appeared to be safe from the brunt of the hurricane.