KINGSTON, Jamaica, Sept. 10 -- Hurricane Ivan, the Caribbean's most powerful storm in a decade, slammed into Jamaica on Friday afternoon, knocking out power, washing out roads and sending uprooted trees flying. The worst of the Category 4 storm was forecast to arrive late Friday before moving on to Cuba and already battered Florida this weekend.
Prime Minister P.J. Patterson declared a "public emergency" as police and rescue workers geared up for Ivan's full impact and potential civil disorder. "I appeal to everyone to continue to exercise extreme care and caution," Patterson told Jamaicans in a televised address.
A man in Jamaica jumps as he crosses a street flooded by the first rains of Hurricane Ivan. The eye was forecast to arrive on the island late yesterday.
(Walter Astrada -- AP)
Hurricane Ivan: The storm wreaks havoc throughout the Caribbean as it heads toward the Florida Keys.
At 10 p.m., the eye of Hurricane Ivan was 35 miles south of Kingston and moving west-northwest at 10 mph with sustained winds of 155 mph, according to forecasters. There were no immediate reports of death or injury, but local radio began reporting sporadic looting and gunfire after nightfall. About 8:30 p.m., radio reported that three gunshot victims were being treated at Kingston Public Hospital.
Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie said on local radio that even before the worst of the storm struck, flooding in the capital constituted a "major catastrophe."
Jamaican government officials urged 500,000 people living in the most vulnerable coastal areas to evacuate. It was unclear how many had moved to higher ground, but as of early evening, local radio reported that thousands of people were in government shelters across the island.
Patterson held out hope that "by some miracle we may at the last minute be spared the worst," but he appealed for people to move to schools, churches and auditoriums, where they would be better protected.
On Friday afternoon, many Jamaicans were staying put, awaiting the storm with resignation. "We can't stop it come," said Evadne Hall, a coal seller in downtown Kingston, speaking in the familiar Jamaican lilt. Motioning toward the gray sea a block from her home, where she said she would ride out the storm, she said, "We can't do nothing about it. It just have to flourish."
As the first strong blasts of the hurricane arrived in midafternoon, national television stations were knocked off the air. Officials at the national electricity company said technicians had shut down the island's entire power grid because of the danger posed by the many trees that had fallen across power lines.
According to TV reports, Patterson's emergency order gave police broad powers of arrest and detention during and after the storm in an effort to keep thrill-seekers off the streets and prevent looting.
Flooding was reported from the provinces of Portland and St. Thomas at the eastern tip of the island to the tourist resort center of Montego Bay in the northwest. Emergency sirens could be heard here in the capital city late in the afternoon, as the storm moved in from the island nation of Grenada, where it killed at least 26 people and caused massive destruction.
Local radio and television were broadcasting public service announcements, including one telling all KFC chicken restaurant employees that they should stay home Friday but be sure to report for work Saturday.
About 3 p.m. Friday, television reported that a woman with a 6-month-old baby had called for help because they were stranded in their flooded home in a low-lying neighborhood. At 5 p.m., RJR radio reported that a pregnant woman in Kingston was giving birth; the roof of her house had been blown off, and she was unable to contact emergency medical officials.
"If there was ever a time to be a good neighbor, it's now," a newscaster said. "Be your brother's keeper."
At St. Joseph's Hospital, all non-emergency patients had been sent home, and about 31 elderly patients were being moved into a maternity ward where only a single mother and her new baby remained, said Elin Gabriel, a nurse and Roman Catholic nun. Gabriel said that hospital workers planned to tape and board up the maternity ward's windows Friday and that they had stocked up on extra water and food.