Hurricane Ivan left Grenada a wasteland of flattened houses, twisted metal and splintered wood as it bore down on Jamaica with deadly winds and monstrous waves, prompting the Jamaican government to order half a million people to flee their homes.
The death toll in the Caribbean stood at 23 today and was expected to rise.
Ivan, a Category 4 hurricane with winds of 150mph, was forecast to make a direct hit on Jamaica this evening. The hurricane devastated Grenada on Tuesday, tossing sailboats against shore, tearing apart buildings and setting off frenzies of looting.
“The destruction is worse than I’ve ever seen,” said Michael Steele, a 34-year-old resident whose home was destroyed. “We’re left with nothing.”
British troops who had arrived on a Royal Navy ship helped clear the damaged airport, ferried in supplies such as drinking water, and were treating about 100 injured people at a hospital where they restored generator power.
US officials ordered people to evacuate from the Florida Keys after forecasters said the storm – the fourth major hurricane of the Atlantic season - could hit the island chain by Sunday, after crossing Cuba. It was the third evacuation ordered in Florida in a month, following Hurricane Charley and Hurricane Frances.
Ivan, already the deadliest hurricane to hit Caribbean islands in a decade, unleashed violent winds, downpours and waves across a wide area. It killed 13 people in Grenada, one in Tobago, four in Venezuela, one Canadian woman in Barbados, and four youngsters in the Dominican Republic swept away by a giant wave yesterday, even though the storm was nearly 200 miles away.
The worst damage struck Grenada, where house after house appeared shredded by whipping winds in the capital of St George’s. Stadium awnings collapsed, church roofs caved in and many trees snapped. Those left standing were stripped of leaves, giving a brownish tinge to hills strewn with debris overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Looting broke out yesterday as hundreds of people, including families with children, smashed storm shutters and shop windows to take televisions and shopping carts of food. Some carried away bed frames and mattresses.
Police set up barricades on roads leading into the capital yesterday and ordered all but emergency workers off the streets. Hundreds of screaming and shoving people said they had to get to town to buy water and food, and in the turmoil police fired tear gas.
Many people, however, managed to get through and ignored the curfew. Wandering the streets in search of water, 30-year-old housewife Dawn Brown said she and her children had run from room to room as Ivan ripped sections off their roof. Eventually, the house was roofless and the family hid under a mattress as violent winds howled around them.
“I stared death in its face. What could be more scary than that?” Brown said.
Some 220 homes also were damaged in Barbados, and the hurricane tore roofs from dozens of houses in St Lucia.
Sixty soldiers from Barbados, Antigua and St. Kitts arrived in Grenada to help restore order, military officials in Barbados said.
Troops from Barbados and Trinidad were among those keeping watch at Grenada’s airport, where the floors were still slick and dozens of American medical students stood waiting for chartered flights home.
“Nothing is going to be functioning here for a long time,” said Olivier de Raet, 37, a medical student from Potomac, Maryland, enrolled at St George’s University. ”We’d rather go out, recuperate, and come back when school’s ready.”
Electricity was knocked out on the island of 100,000 people, and homes had no running water or telephone service. Mobile phone service was patchy.
Some university students said they were afraid of being attacked by looters and armed themselves with knives and sticks for a time.
In Jamaica, hundreds of tourists packed the airport in northern Montego Bay late into the night. Dozens of foreigners also lined up at Kingston’s airport trying to get home.
Workers bolted plywood to windows, while grocery stores and petrol stations stayed open late for crowds of people stocking up ahead of the storm.
At 4am today, Ivan’s eye was about 290 miles south east of Kingston, Jamaica. Hurricane-force winds extended 50 miles, while tropical storm-force winds stretched 175 miles. Ivan was moving west-north west at 13mph.
In Cuba, President Fidel Castro warned residents to brace for the storm. “Whatever the hurricane does, we will all work together” to rebuild, he said on Cuban television last night, making clear his government would stick with its position of not accepting humanitarian aid from the US government.
Meanwhile, the first shipment of emergency relief arrived in Grenada yesterday from the United States. The US Embassy in Barbados said it included enough blankets, plastic sheeting, dry food and water for 20,000 people.