BBC Caribbean
13 September, 2004

Ivan rips through the Caymans

The Cayman Islands has taken a battering from Hurricane Ivan with damaged reported to be severe and widespread.

Governor Bruce Dinwiddy said thousands of homes had lost their roofs and key government buildings had been hit.

The Reuters news agency reported people clambering on to roof tops as waist-high storm surges propelled by 160mph (260km/h) winds swept across the island.

"It's as bad as it can possibly get," Grand Cayman Island resident Justin Uzzell told the Associated Press news agency by telephone.

"It's a horizontal blizzard. The air is just foam."

Officials had yet to assess damage but Donnie Ebanks, deputy chairman of the Cayman Islands' National Hurricane Committee, estimated that up to half of the 15,000 homes in Grand Cayman suffered some damage.

Emergency officials said residents from all parts of the island reported blown-off roofs and flooded homes in Grand Cayman, the largest of three islands in the British territory of 45,000 people that is a popular scuba diving destination and offshore banking center.

The airport runway was flooded and windows shattered in the control tower, Ebanks said. The winds tore off leaves and uprooted trees as high as three stories.

On Sunday, the eye of the storm came within 30 miles (48km) of Georgetown, the Cayman capital, but did not make a direct hit.

Homes flooded

Rafael Mojica of the U.S. National Hurricane Center told the Associated Press news agency that ham radio operators had reported that residents of Grand Cayman were standing on roofs above flooded homes because the sea surged up to 8 feet (2.4 metres) above normal tide levels.

Police said they could not confirm reports to Radio Cayman of several deaths.

Ivan has killed at least 15 people in Jamaica and 39 in Grenada as well as five people in Venezuela, one in Tobago, one in Barbados and four children in the Dominican Republic.

The slow-moving storm pounded the Caymans for hours with 150 mph (240km/h) winds that intensified to near 160 mph (260km/h) as it headed for western Cuba.

Cubans were relieved by Monday morning reports that Ivan likely will not make a direct hit and move through the narrow Yucatan channel on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.

But Jose Rubiera, Cuba's head meteorologist, warned residents on state television not to let down their guard, saying storm surges, hurricane-force winds and torrential rains capable of causing widespread flooding must be expected in western Cuba no matter what exact path the storm took.

"No one should think that it is gone, that we are safe - that is not true," said Rubiera.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Jamaica has risen after a family of four were found buried in a mudslide, said police.

A massive clean-up operation is under way, and the Jamaican authorities appealed for international help after the island was lashed by the storm on Friday night.

Homes and roads were swept away in flooding caused by heavy rain and huge waves up to 23ft (seven metres) high.

Flooding continues to be the main problem, and there is no electricity and clean water in some parts.