Hurricane Emily brushes Jamaica, aims for Yucatan

Sunday, July 17, 2005

BULL BAY, Jamaica -- Fishermen dragged skiffs to shore and workers raced to board up buildings Saturday as Hurricane Emily swept along the southern coast of Jamaica, packing winds of 155 mph and rain that could bring landslides and flooding.

The Category 4 storm was on track to pass close to Grand Cayman Island before smashing into the Yucatan Peninsula, where Mexican officials prepared to evacuate tourists, on its way to the Gulf of Mexico and possibly southern Texas next week.

Jamaican officials sent buses to evacuate hundreds of residents in flood-prone communities along the southern coast, but all refused to leave, said Nadene Newsome, spokeswoman for Jamaica's emergency management office.

In the seaside fishing village of Port Royal, on a peninsula just south of Jamaica's capital, Kingston, storm-weary locals again boarded up windows and tied down metal roofs, just over a week after Hurricane Dennis sideswiped the island.

Many said they were staying put.

"Last week it was Dennis, now it's Emily. What's next, Franklin?" Gordon Murphy, 39, joked as his 2-year-old son played at his feet. "If I'm going to die, it's going to be right here."

Emily's winds spiked to 155 mph Saturday afternoon with higher gusts, making it a Category 4 storm that could still strengthen, according to the National Hurricane Center.

U.S. meteorologist Stacy Stewart said Friday that it was "very rare" to have such a strong hurricane in the Caribbean Sea so early in the season.

Hurricane force winds extended up to 70 miles and tropical storm force winds extended up to 150 miles. The hurricane center warned the storm could dump 5 to 8 inches of rain over Jamaica, which could produce flash floods and mudslides.

Fox is confident

Mexican officials declared a hurricane warning and advised tourists to evacuate much of the country's Caribbean coast -- including the resorts of Cancun and Cozumel and Isla las Mujeres islands -- but stopped short of ordering the move.

"We're trying to anticipate things, so we don't get caught rushing around later," President Vicente Fox said Friday. "I'm confident we can handle this thing with good prevention work."

Emily was centered about 135 miles southwest of the Jamaican capital and 295 miles southeast of Grand Cayman on Saturday afternoon. It was moving west-northwest near 18 mph.

If Emily remains on track, it's likely to strike land in the eastern Yucatan tonight, lose some strength as it moves overland, then regain its dangerous energy in warm waters over the Gulf of Mexico, said Jack Beven, the hurricane specialist at the Miami-based center.

He said Emily was likely to make landfall again sometime Wednesday, anywhere from northeastern Mexico to southern Texas, but cautioned it was too early to make a prediction.

Emily has unleashed heavy surf, gusty winds and torrential rains across the Caribbean, hitting hard Thursday at Grenada even as the island was still recovering from the devastation of last year's Hurricane Ivan.

Grenada declared a national disaster Friday after Emily's winds ravaged hundreds of homes, destroyed crops and killed at least one man.

Hurricane Dennis killed at least 25 people in Haiti and 16 in Cuba last week.

Forecasters have predicted up to 15 Atlantic tropical storms this year, including three to five major hurricanes. The hurricane season began June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

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