Jamaicans flee after Hurricane Ivan kills 20

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The Independent US

Half a million people were told to evacuate Jamaica's coastal areas last night after Hurricane Ivan devasted the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, leaving 20 dead. The storm's deadly power wiped out 90 per cent of Grenada's buildings.

Half a million people were told to evacuate Jamaica's coastal areas last night after Hurricane Ivan devasted the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada, leaving 20 dead. The storm's deadly power wiped out 90 per cent of Grenada's buildings.

As the hurricane headed for neighbouring Jamaica, thousands of British holidaymakers were among those told to get out. Thomson, My Travel and British Airways were among several operators evacuating them to the Dominican Republic. The hurricane is expected to hit parts of Cuba, and possibly storm-weary Florida, as well as Jamaica today.

Counting the cost to Grenada, the Prime Minister, Keith Mitchell, said: "We have got a tremendous hit that we never expected. You are talking hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. We are terribly devastated. It's beyond imagination." His residence was demolished and he was taken briefly to the Royal Navy frigate HMS Richmond.

Mike McCurtain, captain of Richmond, told the BBC that Mr Mitchell had taken refuge on board for a few hours. "He was able to tell me his house had been completely flattened, so we have had to take him to another residence which he can use, and that was damaged as well," he said.

Sixty sailors from Richmond are helping in rescue and clean-up efforts. They were joined by officers from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Wave Ruler, a fleet tanker, which was also in the area. There were reports of widespread looting and civil disturbance. One of the damaged buildings was a 17th-century stone prison and several inmates had escaped, the authorities said.

Among the prisoners were former political figures jailed for 20 years for killings in the failed Marxist coup of 1983 that prompted an American invasion of the island. Caribbean troops are on their way to help restore order and stop the looting.

The hurricane, which strengthened early yesterday to become a Category 5, on a scale of one to five, is the most powerful storm to strike the Caribbean in a decade. Its winds were reported last night to have reached 160mph, driving dangerous tidal surges.

The direct hit on Grenada, once a British colony, came late on Tuesday, but with all communications cut it took more than 24 hours for the rest of the world to learn of the catastrophe. Much of the historic capital, St George, with its quaint architecture, has been badly damaged.

Ivan, which was designated a hurricane last weekend as it tracked west in the Atlantic, has also caused devastation on the islands of Barbados and St Vincent. Serious flooding was also reported in northern Venezuela.

Last night Jamaica was bracing for calamity as Ivan approached from the south. "We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario," the island's Prime Minister, P J Patterson, said. "Let us pray for God's care. This is a time that we must demonstrate we are indeed our brothers' and sisters' keeper."

In the south-eastern United States, authorities ordered all tourists and mobile-home residents to start leaving the Florida Keys. It was still too soon to be certain of the hurricane's track in the longer term, but some forecasters said it was behaving ominously like Charley, which pillaged a wide swath of the Sunshine State, killing 27 people, making landfall on the Gulf Coast south of Tampa Bay.

"After Jamaica, Ivan's probably going to hit somewhere in the US, unfortunately," Jennifer Pralgo at the Miami Hurricane Centre said. "We're hoping it's not Florida again, but it's taking a fairly similar track to Charley at present."

Only five days ago, the lumbering Hurricane Frances struck Florida's Atlantic coast and delivered massive flooding and widespread power cuts.

American students attending St George's University in Grenada escaped most of the worst effects of Ivan. "The pipes were whistling, the doors were vibrating, gusts were coming underneath the window," Sonya Lazarevic, 36, said.

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