Hurricane Ivan, with winds of more than 140 mph, was barrelling across the Caribbean toward more holiday isles tonight after devastating Grenada.
Ivan is on course to hit the US mainland at the weekend after crossing over Jamaica and Cuba.
It made a direct hit on Grenada with ferocious winds, causing “incalculable damage” and killing at least three people as it collapsed concrete homes into piles of rubble and hurled hundreds of the island’s landmark red zinc roofs through the air.
The most powerful storm to hit the Caribbean in 14 years wrecked the capital, St George’s, and also damaged homes in Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent.
Thousands were without water, electricity and telephone service, just days after Hurricane Frances rampaged through.
Ivan strengthened even as it was over Grenada, becoming a Category 4 storm and got even stronger as it headed across the Caribbean Sea, passing north of the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao.
It is threatening to cross right over Jamaica by Friday morning or Saturday, and then Cuba, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said.
Then “it’s probably going to hit somewhere in the US unfortunately,” Jennifer Pralgo, a meteorologist at the centre, said. “We’re hoping it’s not Florida again.”
Another Hurricane Centre meteorologist, Hugh Cobb, said Ivan terrorised Grenada for two hours.
“They took a really bad beating,” he said, warning ”Whoever gets this, it’s going to be bad.”
Howling winds raged through the hilly streets of St. George’s destroying concrete homes, uprooting trees and utility poles, and knocking out telephone service and electricity. The islands were cut off and transmission was halted from the Grenada Broadcast Network.
Grenadian Prime Minister Keith Mitchell said his home has been flattened.
The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency said there were three deaths in Grenada, but that it had no details since it lost contact with Grenadian emergency officials on Tuesday night.
Grenada’s airport also was damaged and an air charter company in Barbados said it was refused permission to fly in.
St. George’s “suffered incalculable damage” and Grenada’s emergency disaster office, at the 19th century Great House at Mount Wheldale, was destroyed.
The Royal Navy frigate Richmond, currently on Caribbean patrol is expected to be sent to Grenada, an island of 84,000, to offer assistance.
St. George’s main hospital also was damaged, the agency said, as were some shelters. “The population in public shelters is 1,000 and climbing,” it said.
There were reports that storm damage allowed prisoners to escape Grenada’s crumbling and overcrowded 17th century prison, a zinc-roofed stone edifice on a hilltop.
For more than 20 years the prison has held former Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard and 16 others convicted for killings in a coup that led to US troops invading the island in 1983.
Ivan’s sustained winds were clocked at 120 mph as it raced through the Windward Islands. But it strengthened to 140 mph with higher gusts.
Meteorologist Cobb said Ivan would be the first Category 4 storm to hit Caribbean islands since Hurricane Luis in 1990.
He said that if Ivan hit Jamaica, it could be more destructive than Hurricane Gilbert, which was only Category 3 when it devastated the island in 1988.
Cobb said Ivan’s heaviest rains, concentrated in its eastern sector, likely will sweep across southern Haiti, where deforestation and shacks make any excessive rain a deadly force. Heavy rains in May triggered floods that killed 1,700 people and left 1,600 missing and presumed dead in Haiti and neighbouring Dominican Republic.
Ivan became the fourth major hurricane of the season on Sunday, coming hard on the heels of Hurricane Frances, which killed at least two people in the Bahamas and 14 in the US states of Florida and Georgia.