Towering waves and 100mph winds herald arrival of Ivan in Jamaica

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The Independent US

Towering waves the height of two storey buildings and winds of more than 100mph announced the arrival of Hurricane Ivan in Jamaica last night.

Towering waves the height of two storey buildings and winds of more than 100mph announced the arrival of Hurricane Ivan in Jamaica last night.

On the coastal Palisadoes Highway, near the capital Kingston's airport, 23-foot waves crashed to shore, thrusting rocks and dead tree branches more than 100 feet onto the road.

Residents were bracing themselves for even stronger winds reaching up to 150mph as the storm, the most powerful to have hit the Caribbean in a decade, sweeps across the densely populated island.

"I've lived here all my life and I've never seen anything like this," said businessman Chester Pinnock. "This is going to be disastrous, we could have hundreds dead. Hurricane Gilbert was a puppy compared to this." Gilbert killed dozens of Jamaicans and devastated the island when it struck in 1988.

Half a million people were told to flee the coast of Jamaica yesterday as Hurricane Ivan approached.

About 2,600 British holidaymakers were evacuated in a last-minute airlift, but about 850 chose, or were forced through circumstance, to stay as Ivan's deadly 150 mph winds ripped across the region.

The storm has already left the island of Grenada a wasteland of snapped trees, twisted metal and flattened buildings. Ninety per cent of homes were severely damaged. Police said 29 people, including two unidentified foreign yachtsmen, had died when the storm ravaged the island on Tuesday.

Across the Caribbean, the death toll rose to 33 yesterday. It was expected to increase as Kingston, Jamaica's sprawling capital of 1 million, endured a direct hit from the storm.

In Haiti, the storm's fringes forced piles of sand and water, up to knee-high, into the seaside neighbourhoods of Les Cayes, a city of 300,000 on the south-west peninsula. Hundreds of residents sheltered in schools and churches.

Cuba declared a nationwide hurricane watch after its leader, Fidel Castro, went on national television warning resi- dents to brace themselves. "Whatever the hurricane does, we will all work together" to rebuild, he said.

In South Florida, there were queues at petrol stations and supermarkets were packed with shoppers preparing for the storm's expected arrival on Monday.

The Royal Navy's HMS Richmond and the British supply ship RFA Wave Ruler were last night heading for Jamaica and Grand Cayman after helping in the aftermath of the storm on Grenada.

Commander Mike McCartain, on HMS Richmond, said: "We've just been tasked by our fleet headquarters for HMS Richmond and RFA Wave Ruler to proceed at best speed to Jamaica and prepare for contingency operations there. I need to fly in to the island to discuss various issues with the authorities ashore."

He added: "We'll position ourselves quite wisely with respect to the hurricane. We'll be chasing it ostensibly up to the north-west across the Caribbean Sea, so we shouldn't be too affected by it."

A last-minute rescue effort by travel companies had earlier plucked thousands of tourists out of the path of the storm before it hit Jamaica. Frances Tuke, a spokeswoman for the Association of British Travel Agents, said: "Tour companies were able to arrange accommodation in the north of the Dominican Republic and people moved from Jamaica seemed pretty pleased to be able to escape from the hurricane.

"There are about 850 Britons who have chosen to stay on. They are being directed to emergency centres."

Those left on the island included people who were unable to safely take the rescue flights. One diver was unable to recover from a strenuous dive in time to flee.

British Airways and Air Jamaica cancelled their London-Jamaica services for today.

There were 25 British holidaymakers known to be on Grand Cayman and plans were also in place to evacuate them.

The UK tour operator MyTravel sent two rescue flights to Cuba to bring scores of its clients home via Toronto.

Ms Tuke said there were more than 3,000 British holidaymakers on Cuba and that there were plans to transport them across the island to Holguin on the east coast. "It's thought that Ivan will only touch part of Cuba and that Holguin will escape the worst," she said.

Ivan may then hit Florida, which has already suffered from two hurricanes, Charley and Frances, this season.

Some relatives of British people caught in the destruction in Grenada have still heard nothing about their fate. Angela Peters, whose mother Isabel Marsh-Peters was visiting a family property on Grenada when the storm hit, said she had got no information from the Foreign Office.

"The last anyone heard from her was during the evacuation before the storm. For three days now, we have heard nothing. Her mobile and the landline are not answering," she said.

"When I contact the Foreign Office they don't even have the information they are showing us on the television. They told me to ring the British embassy in Grenada, but they know the phone lines are down," Ms Peters said.

KEEPING TRACK OF HURRICANES

Naming: As there can be 100 or more a year, meteorologists need to identify each. Early naming was informal and inconsistent: in the Caribbean they were named after the saint's day on which they occurred; during the Second World War, wives and girlfriends of military meteorologists were the inspiration.

By 1950 the first formal strategy was in place for North Atlantic cyclones, using the phonetic alphabet (Able-Baker-Charlie). In 1952 the US Weather Bureau switched to female names. Male names came in 1979.

Q, U, X, Y, and Z are not used because of the paucity of names starting with them.

Force ratings

1: 74-95mph; minor flooding, slight structural damage, a "storm surge" up to 1.5m.

2: 96-110mph; roof and tree damage, storm surge 1.8 to 2.4m.

3: 111-130mph; houses damaged, severe flooding, storm surge 2.7 to 3.7m.

4: 131-154mph; major structural damage to houses and some roofs destroyed, storm surge 4-5.5m

5: 155mph+; serious damage to buildings, severe inland flooding, storm surge 5.5m+

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