Hurricane Beryl grows to Category 5 strength as it razes southeast Caribbean islands

Hurricane Beryl strengthened to Category 5 status late Monday after it ripped doors, windows and roofs off homes across the southeastern Caribbean with devastating winds and storm surge fuelled by the Atlantic’s record warmth.

Beryl made landfall on the island of Carriacou in Grenada as the earliest Category 4 storm in the Atlantic, then late in the day the National Hurricane Center in Miami said its winds had increased to 260 kilometres per hour, making it a Category 5 storm.

Forecasters said fluctuations in strength were likely in the coming days as the storm pushed further into the Caribbean.

Grenada’s Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said one person had died and he could not yet say if there were other fatalities because authorities had not been able to assess the situation on the islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, where there were initial reports of major damage but communications were largely down.

Streets from St. Lucia island south to Grenada were strewn with shoes, trees, downed power lines and other debris. The storm snapped banana trees in half and killed cows that lay in green pastures as if they were sleeping, with homes made of tin and plywood tilting precariously nearby.

“Right now, I’m real heartbroken,” said Vichelle Clark King as she surveyed her damaged shop in the Barbadian capital of Bridgetown that was filled with sand and water.

Beryl was still swiping the southeast Caribbean late Monday afternoon even as it began moving into the Caribbean Sea on a track that would take it just south of Jamaica and toward Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula by late Thursday as a Category 1 storm.

Waves crash into a sea wall after Hurricane Beryl made landfall in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, on Monday. (Andrea De Silva/Reuters)

Beryl was located about 925 kilometres east-southeast of Isla Beata in the Dominican Republic and was moving west-northwest at 33 km/h, with hurricane conditions possible on Jamaica Wednesday.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, and a tropical storm warning for the entire southern coast of Hispaniola, an island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

“Beryl is expected to remain an extremely dangerous major hurricane as its moves over the eastern Caribbean,” the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The last strong hurricane to hit the southeast Caribbean was Hurricane Ivan 20 years ago, which killed dozens of people in Grenada.

People walk amid damaged fishing vessels.
People survey fishing vessels damaged by Hurricane Beryl at the Bridgetown Fisheries in Barbados on Monday. (Ricardo Mazalan/The Associated Press)

On Monday afternoon, officials received “reports of devastation” from Carriacou and surrounding islands, said Terence Walters, Grenada’s national disaster co-ordinator. Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said he would travel to Carriacou as soon as it’s safe, noting there’s been an “extensive” storm surge.

Grenada officials had to evacuate patients to a lower floor after hospital roof was damaged, he said.

“There is the likelihood of even greater damage,” he told reporters. “We have no choice but to continue to pray.”

In Barbados, Wilfred Abrahams, minister of home affairs and information, said drones — which are faster than crews fanning across the island — would assess damage once Beryl passes.

Historic hurricane

Beryl strengthened from a tropical depression to a major hurricane in just 42 hours — a feat accomplished only six other times in Atlantic hurricane history, and with Sept. 1 as the earliest date, according to hurricane expert Sam Lillo.

It also was the earliest Category 4 Atlantic hurricane on record, besting Hurricane Dennis, which became a Category 4 storm on July 8, 2005.

Beryl amassed its strength from record warm waters that are hotter now than they would be at the peak of hurricane season in September, said hurricane specialist and storm surge expert Michael Lowry.

An uprooted tree slumps on the side of a house.
A tree slumps on the side of a house after being uprooted by Beryl in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on Monday. (Lucanus Ollivierre/The Associated Press)

Beryl also marked the farthest east that a hurricane has formed in the tropical Atlantic in June, breaking a record set in 1933, according to Philip Klotzbach, Colorado State University hurricane researcher.

On Sunday night, Beryl formed a new eye, or centre, something that usually weakens a storm slightly as it grows larger in area. Experts say it’s now back to strengthening.

Jaswinderpal Parmar of Fresno, Calif., who had travelled to Barbados for Saturday’s Twenty20 World Cup cricket final, said he and his family were now stuck there with scores of other fans, their flights cancelled on Sunday.

WATCH | Forecasters expect an active Atlantic hurricane season in 2024: 

Forecasters expect an active Atlantic hurricane season in 2024

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is projecting 17 to 25 named tropical storms and hurricanes this year, the most it has ever forecasted in its May outlook. CBC meteorologist Jay Scotland has more on the forecast and what it could mean for Atlantic Canada.

He said by phone that it’s the first time he has experienced a hurricane — he and his family have been praying, as well as taking calls from concerned friends and family as far away as India.

“We couldn’t sleep last night,” Parmar, 47, said.

Looking ahead

Even as Beryl bore down on the southeast Caribbean, government officials warned about a cluster of thunderstorms mimicking the hurricane’s path that have a 70 per cent chance of becoming a tropical depression.

“There’s always a concern when you have back-to-back storms,” Lowry said. “If two storms move over the same area or nearby, the first storm weakens the infrastructure, so the secondary system doesn’t need to be as strong to have serious impacts.”

Beryl is the second named storm in the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. Earlier this month, Tropical Storm Alberto made landfall in northeast Mexico and killed four people.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts the 2024 hurricane season is likely to be well above average, with between 17 and 25 named storms. The forecast calls for as many as 13 hurricanes and four major hurricanes.

An average Atlantic hurricane season produces 14 named storms, seven of them hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

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