washingtonpost.com  > Nation > Special Reports > Around the Nation > Hurricanes

Jamaica Spared Direct Blow but Still Hit Hard

Fierce Winds and Rain Cause Extensive Damage

By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 12, 2004; Page A03

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Sept. 11 -- Hurricane Ivan spared Jamaica a direct hit Saturday, suddenly turning away from the island's shore, but the fierce rains and winds that it did deliver still killed at least 11 people, collapsed houses and washed out roads.

"Whatever our religious faith or persuasion might be, we must give thanks" that it changed course, Prime Minister Percival J. Patterson said. But as Ivan's high winds and heavy rains continued to buffet the entire island, he noted: "There is no part of Jamaica which has been immune and there is no part which has escaped serious damage."


Two women stand by a pool filled with seawater near a destroyed wall that collapsed after Hurricane Ivan passed Kingston, Jamaica. The Category 5 hurricane killed 11 people on the island. (Walter Astrada -- AP)

By Saturday evening, Ivan had strengthened to a rare Category 5 storm capable of catastrophic damage, with winds reaching 165 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Ivan was projected to cut between the Cayman Islands, directly hit Cuba and then move into the Gulf of Mexico or strike South Florida. At 11 p.m., Ivan was about 105 miles southeast of the Cayman Islands.

Patterson said the known 11 dead included eight people who drowned in a storm surge at Portland Point, the southernmost tip of the country, two people killed by falling trees and a woman who died during childbirth because she could not get to a hospital during the storm. He said that it was too soon for a comprehensive estimate of the amount of damage but that the United Nations and several countries, including some in the Caribbean, Venezuela, Canada, Britain and the United States had offered assistance.

According to Patterson and local news reports, there was widespread flooding across the nation because of Ivan, which continued to dump massive amounts of rain on Jamaica well into Saturday evening, even as its eye bore down on the Cayman Islands. Thousands of trees were down and blocking major highways, and traffic lights in Kingston were uprooted and smashed by the storm. Luxury hotels in Kingston had windows blown out and one had a large piece of its metal façade torn loose.

In Spanish Town, in St. Catherine parish about 15 miles west of Kingston, Old Harbour Road was a river, and its waters ran right through Ann Marie York's bedroom.

"My bed, my furniture, everything washed away," York said, standing in brown water in her tiny house, where she and her family huddled with a half-dozen soggy chickens as Hurricane Ivan dumped sheet after sheet of rain through her battered tin roof. "It's bad, bad, bad," she said, slapping at the puddle that had formed in the blanket on her bed. "This is the worst ever."

"Nobody's all right, mon," said Sam Lewis, 23, standing in the rushing water outside York's front room, which serves as a little roadside barroom known as the Crystal Pub. Lewis walked to York's house in knee-deep water on the road after the storm blew the roof off his house and flooded it.

Patterson, who ordered a state of public emergency Friday, giving police broad arrest powers in the face of looting, announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew, to take effect immediately in specific areas of the country, from Kingston to Montego Bay in the northwest. Twenty-eight people have been arrested for looting, and police have shot dead two looters, said Peter Phillips, the national security minister. Local radio reported that five police officers have been shot and wounded in gun battles with looters.

Dwight Moore, owner of an Esso gas station in Kingston, said police shot and killed a looter who was trying to rob his station late Friday night.

"It was a job well done by the police," said Moore, wearing a pistol in a holster on his hip, and pointing out bullet holes in one of his gas pumps and in the wall of a shop across the street. Police with M-16 rifles stood guard outside downtown hospitals and helmeted police and soldiers patrolled roads in pickup trucks to guard against further looting.

Moore's station was one of only a handful of businesses open Saturday in the city center, which was still being buffeted by high winds and remained a virtual ghost town, with fallen trees blocking many roads, power lines down and stoplights uprooted by high winds. The national power company shut off electricity nationwide Friday because so many trees had fallen and knocked down power lines; most of the island remained without power Saturday.

Voicing what seemed to be a common sentiment in Kingston, Moore said the government deserved credit for averting a worse crisis. "The government put in place a good disaster preparedness plan," he said, adding that the city fared much better during Ivan than it did in 1988 during Hurricane Gilbert, the last major hurricane to strike Jamaica, which caused about $600 million in damage.

"People realized that we can't always be lucky, so we decided to be prepared," Moore said.

Kingston Mayor Desmond McKenzie, interviewed on radio, said the capital was suffering from severe flooding in many areas, but nothing like what the city might have suffered had Ivan's eye passed directly overhead. Ivan killed at least 34 people and did massive damage earlier in the week in the island nation of Grenada.

"Overall we should be happy," McKenzie said. "We should be singing God's praises. What we feared has not materialized."

Despite the death of the woman during childbirth, officials at Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston said many babies were born during the storm. "We were cutting cords all over the place," said one nurse, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In one of the most dramatic cases, police brought a pregnant woman to the hospital after the storm's high winds blew the roof off her house late Friday. Jacqueline Bruce was unable to reach police by telephone, so her neighbor, Rosie Richards, said she called a local radio station for assistance. The station broadcast Richards' number and asked police to call. They did, and Richards said they soon rescued Bruce from her battered home and took her to the hospital. The nurse said Bruce had not delivered her baby as of midday Saturday.

But the good news quickly disappeared into the rearview mirror on a Saturday afternoon drive west down highway A-2 toward parts of Jamaica farthest west, where Ivan's effects were still being felt intensely. Just outside the capital, a gang of perhaps 100 young men could be seen smashing the front door of a factory and looting it.

Standing in her flooded home, York emptied bucket after bucket of rainwater cascading through holes the storm had ripped in her roof.

"It's going to take a long time to clean this up," she said. "At least nobody was hurt."


© 2004 The Washington Post Company