July 17th, 2024

Hurricane Beryl churns toward Mexico after leaving destruction in Jamaica and eastern Caribbean

By Martín Silva And John Myers Jr., The Associated Press on July 4, 2024.

TULUM, Mexico (AP) – After leaving a trail of destruction across the eastern Caribbean and at least nine people dead, Hurricane Beryl weakened as it chugged over open water toward Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula on Thursday, going from the earliest Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic to Category 2 by the afternoon.

Jack Beven, senior hurricane specialist at the U.S. Hurricane Center, said “the biggest immediate threat now that the storm is moving away from the Cayman Islands is landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula.”

The storm’s center was about 215 miles (345 kilometers) east-southeast of Tulum, Mexico, on Thursday afternoon. It had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph (175 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 20 mph (about 31 kph).

Beryl was expected to bring heavy rain and moderate winds to Mexico’s Caribbean coast, before crossing Yucatan and restrengthening in the Gulf of Mexico to make a second strike on northeast Mexico.

Separately, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Thursday that Tropical Storm Aletta had formed in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s coast. Aletta, which was located about 190 miles (310 kilometers) from Manzanillo and had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph), was forecast to head away from land and dissipate by the weekend.

As the wind began gusting over Tulum’s white sand beaches on Thursday afternoon, four-wheelers with megaphones rolled along the sand telling people to leave. Tourists snapped photos of the growing surf, but largely left as Beryl was expected to make landfall south of Tulum early on Friday.

Over the past days, Beryl has damaged or destroyed 95% of homes on a pair of islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, jumbled fishing boats in Barbados and ripped off roofs in Jamaica before rumbling past the Cayman Islands early Thursday.

Mexico’s popular Caribbean coast prepared shelters, evacuated some small outlying coastal communities and even moved sea turtle eggs off beaches threatened by storm surge.

In Playa del Carmen, most businesses were closed Thursday and some were boarding up windows as tourists jogged by and some locals walked their dogs under sunny skies. In Tulum, authorities shut things down and evacuated beachside hotels.

Francisco Bencomo, General manager of Hotel Umi in Tulum said all of their guests had left. “With these conditions, we’ll be completely locked down,” he said, adding there were no plans to have guests return before July 10th.

“We’ve cut the gas and electricity. We also have an emergency floor where two maintenance employees will be locking down,” he said from the hotel. “We have them staying in the room farthest from the beach and windows.”

“I hope we have the least impact possible on the hotel, that the hurricane moves quickly through Tulum, and that it’s nothing serious,” he said.

Myriam Setra, a 34-year-old tourist from Dallas, Texas was having a sandwich on the beach earlier Thursday. Her flight home was scheduled for Friday, but Beryl had not persuaded her to leave early.

“I figured I’d rather be stuck in Mexico for an extra day, than go back two days early to the United States,” Setra said. “Figured we’d get the last of the sun in today, too. And then it’s just going to be hunker down and just stay indoors until hopefully it passes.”

The head of Mexico’s civil defense agency, Laura Velázquez, said Thursday that Beryl is expected to be a Category 1 hurricane when it hits a relatively unpopulated stretch south of Tulum early Friday.

But once Beryl re-emerges into the Gulf of Mexico a day later, she said, it is again expected to build to hurricane strength and could hit right around the Mexico-U.S. border, at Matamoros. That area was already soaked in June by Tropical Storm Alberto.

Velázquez said temporary storm shelters were in place at schools and hotels but efforts to evacuate a few highly exposed villages – like Punta Allen, which sits on a narrow spit of land south of Tulum – had been only partially successful.

Beryl’s worst damage appeared to be behind it. Its eye wall brushed by Jamaica’s southern coast on Wednesday afternoon while on Thursday morning, telephone poles and trees were blocking the roadways in Kingston.

Authorities confirmed a young man died on Wednesday after he was swept into a storm water drain while trying to retrieve a ball. A woman also died after a house collapsed on her.

Residents took advantage of a break in the rain to begin clearing debris.

Sixty-five percent of the island remained without electricity, along with a lack of water and limited telecommunications. Government officials were assessing the damage, but it was hampered by the lack of communication, mainly in southern parishes that suffered the most damage.

In the south-central parish of Clarendon, residents attempted to mend damaged roofs and clear downed trees. Many roadways in the area remained partially blocked from downed electricity and telecommunication poles.

Seymour, armed with a machete as he and others tried to clear debris, was grateful that he and his neighbors were spared.

“I am just grateful for life although Beryl destroyed a lot of roofs and we don’t have any water or light (electricity),” he said, declining to give his last name.

The premier of the Cayman Islands, Juliana O’Connor, thanked residents and visitors Thursday for contributing to the “collective calm” ahead of Beryl by following storm protocols.

Michelle Forbes, the St. Vincent and Grenadines director of the National Emergency Management Organization, said that about 95% of homes in Mayreau and Union Island have been damaged by Hurricane Beryl.

Three people were reported killed in Grenada and Carriacou and another in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said. Three other deaths were reported in northern Venezuela, where four people were missing, officials said.

One fatality in Grenada occurred after a tree fell on a house, Kerryne James, the environment minister, told The Associated Press.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has promised to rebuild the archipelago.


Myers reported from Kingston, Jamaica. Associated Press writers Renloy Trail in Kingston, Jamaica; Mark Stevenson, María Verza and Mariana Martínez Barba in Mexico City; Coral Murphy Marcos in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Lucanus Ollivierre in Kingstown, St. Vincent and Grenadines, contributed to this report.

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