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11 Killed as Ivan Skirts Jamaica's Capital

Hurricane's eye misses Kingston as it lurches westward, but 150-mph winds and torrential rains still wreak havoc.

September 12, 2004|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

PROVIDENCIALES, Turks and Caicos Islands — Hurricane Ivan dealt a mercifully glancing blow to Jamaica on Saturday but immediately rebounded to a potent Category 5 storm and raged through open waters toward the Cayman Islands and Cuba. The death toll rose to 56.

The storm thrashed Jamaica with winds as high as 150 mph, but a last-minute westward "wobble" diverted the eye. The hurricane skirted the populous capital, Kingston, and spared the island nation a far worse disaster, public safety officials reported.

Eleven people were killed in Jamaica, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said in a statement.

Ivan's winds had intensified to 165 mph by late Saturday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said, predicting that the most powerful storm to sweep the Caribbean in a decade probably would make landfall in western Cuba sometime today.

Meteorologists cautioned Jamaicans that they were not yet out of danger. Heavy rainfall was threatening flash floods and mudslides for much of the western part of the country, the hurricane center's Lixion Avila said.

As Ivan continued to threaten Florida with its third hurricane in a month, the westward tack that sent the eye across Jamaica's sparsely populated Clarendon and St. Elizabeth parishes instead of Kingston prompted storm trackers to predict it might veer into the Gulf of Mexico instead of making a direct hit on the Sunshine State.

Jamaicans, many of whom had ignored evacuation orders to guard their homes against looters, expressed relief that they'd dodged widespread destruction and casualties.

"If we didn't get the eye with the winds we experienced, I cannot imagine what it would have been like if the eye did hit us directly," said Michael Muirhead, a tourism industry executive living in the Stony Hill suburb of Kingston who weathered Ivan's passing at home with his dog, Gucci. "It was ferocious up here. That storm just had no mercy."

Television footage aired by the U.S.-based Weather Channel showed rivers swollen by the torrential rains that followed in Ivan's wake. Uprooted trees, sheets of corrugated aluminum and roofing tiles and shingles littered the capital's otherwise empty streets.

Airports in Kingston and Montego Bay remained closed, but Air Jamaica reported that it expected to begin returning its planes today from the southeastern United States, where they had been flown for safekeeping.

The Jamaican death toll included two children who drowned near Kingston and a family of four who died in south-central Clarendon, said Sgt. Steve Brown of the Jamaican Police Force emergency response center. He also said a family of eight was missing from a flooded area west of Kingston. RJR Radio also reported that an elderly woman died when a tree fell on her home.

There was sporadic looting in some areas of Kingston, but the police deployed in force, chasing off those preying on empty homes and shuttered businesses.

Damage assessment had not yet begun late Saturday as winds slowed but remained at tropical storm force, said Ronald Sacey of the Constabulary Communications Network, a public safety information service. He said recovery and emergency response teams were on the scene from late morning but were dealing first with security threats, such as the need to deter looting.

"We're getting ready to do our assessments, but we can say that Jamaica was spared the larger fury that could have hit the island, fortunately," said Orna Blum, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Kingston. All embassy personnel and U.S. citizens known to be in the country had been accounted for by early Saturday, she said.

At the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, based in Barbados, officials said relief efforts remained focused on Grenada, where eight more bodies were discovered Saturday, bringing the toll in that tiny Windward Island nation to 34 since Ivan blasted through earlier in the week. The 11 Jamaicans, plus fatalities earlier in Venezuela and Tobago, brought the storm's toll to 56.

"We're still working to get foodstuffs in as well as temporary beds and shelter," said the agency's aid coordinator Celia Skeete, who estimated that 90,000 people -- about 90% of Grenada's population -- were in need of assistance. The International Committee of the Red Cross appealed for $1.4 million in donations for Grenada.

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