Jamaica lashed by 20ft waves as Ivan's path of destruction sweeps Caribbean

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The Independent US

Hurricane Ivan continued its rampage across the Caribbean yesterday, scoring a glancing but devastating hit in Jamaica before moving off towards the Cayman Islands and Cuba.

Hurricane Ivan continued its rampage across the Caribbean yesterday, scoring a glancing but devastating hit in Jamaica before moving off towards the Cayman Islands and Cuba.

With at least 34 deaths attributed to the storm so far, Ivan unexpectedly veered slightly to the west as it approached Jamaica as a category four hurricane, packing winds of almost 155 miles an hour around its eye. But although the hurricane's eye skirted south of the island, the combination of shearing winds, 20ft waves and torrential rain inflicted damage enough.

In downtown Kingston, the island's capital, 20ft trees were uprooted, some flung on to cars, and the streets were strewn with twisted metal roof panels. Porcelain tiles that decorated the Jamaica Pegasus hotel were torn from the façade and smashed to shards. "I'd say we have been spared the worst," Ronald Jackson of the Jamaica relief agency told the Associated Press, "but we're not out of the woods yet."

Jamaica's death toll rose to eight, and included people whose houses collapsed when trees fell on them and others who drowned when their homes were submerged by flood waters.

Countless homes and buildings had their metal roofs peeled off. Widespread flooding was reported, and power was cut off across the island. Despite troops patrolling the rain-lashed streets, sporadic looting took place in Kingston.

"I've lived here all my life, and I've never seen anything like it," Chester Pinnock, a Kingston businessman, said. Heavy flooding was also reported around Montego Bay on Jamaica's northern coast, washing away part of the A1 main coastal road.

Frances Tuke, from the Association of British Travel Agents, said that 3,500 package tourists had been in Jamaica. About 2,600 were airlifted to safety in the Dominican Republic, about 850 chose to stay, and others were left stranded because rescue flights were full.

Last night Ivan, one of the most powerful Caribbean hurricanes of modern times, was moving at eight miles an hour in the direction of the Cayman Islands, which were likely to feel the full brunt of the storm early today. It was then expected to curl to the north-west, crossing western Cuba, before re-emerging into the Gulf of Mexico, to strike Florida in the middle of the week.

The exact course of Ivan, the third major Atlantic hurricane in the past month, was still uncertain last night, and some predictions were that a high-pressure system off the US eastern seaboard would strengthen, nudging the hurricane westward. Even so, Florida, which is still clearing up the damage from hurricanes Charley and Frances, was preparing for the worst. Residents of the Florida Keys, the chain of small islands stretching to within 90 miles of Cuba, have been ordered to evacuate, and emergency precautions were being taken across the state.

The full extent of the damage in Jamaica will be known only when Ivan has passed. But the devastation on Grenada, which took a direct hit on Wednesday, offered a grim pointer. Ivan killed 26 people on the island. Some 90 per cent of Grenada's homes were damaged, some of them totally destroyed. The island's 100,000 residents were left without water, electricity or telephones. Last night scattered looting was still being reported there; 100 soldiers had earlier been despatched from five Caribbean countries to restore order.

More than 120 UK holidaymakers who were evacuated from Grenada yesterday arrived back on a British Airways mercy flight from Barbados. The British Foreign Office advised UK citizens against all non-essential travel to Grenada because of the devastation caused by Ivan.

Grenada was reported to have temporarily halted relief shipments to the island, while it restores security. But the Red Cross warned that unless deliveries resumed the situation would become "critical".