Friday, September 10, 2004

Troops patrol storm-churned Grenada

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (Reuters) -- Troops secured buildings against looters, and authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, as the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada struggled to recover Friday from Hurricane Ivan's devastating strike.

Grenadians roamed the streets on foot or in cars with smashed windshields looking for scarce water, food and gasoline, while Ivan marched toward Jamaica with 145 mph winds.

Authorities said an estimated 90 percent of the homes on the southeastern Caribbean spice island were damaged by Ivan, which struck Tuesday and killed at least 17 people.

The Grenadian government issued an urgent international appeal for help, including tents, tarpaulins, cots, blankets and building supplies to help shelter an estimated 60,000 of the island's 90,000 people.

"We have been hit extremely hard and it is a very tough one for the country and people are dazed at this particular time, but we are trying to handle it as best we can," said Prime Minister Keith Mitchell. His official residence was so badly damaged he was forced to move for a time to the British Navy ship Richmond off the coast.

About 200 troops from neighboring countries were helping Grenada's security forces put down rampant looting in St. George's, the capital of the former British colony.

Electricity and water were out of commission. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency (CDERA) said authorities expected to have water flowing by the weekend.

Beds and chairs were drying in the sun, witnesses told reporters on neighboring islands. Trees were stripped of fruit and branches and power lines hung from teetering poles.

The only two buildings left relatively unscathed were Grenada General Hospital and Government Headquarters.

Damage to the nutmeg industry appeared extensive, Mitchell said earlier. Grenada is one of the world's leading producers of nutmeg.

"Seeing this situation, one cannot feel that the response should be more than overwhelming," CDERA director Jeremy Collymore said.

CDERA put the Grenada death toll at 17. A U.S. State Department official had said earlier this week that the storm killed 20.

Aircraft and boats carrying relief supplies from the International Federation of the Red Cross and the U.S. government were expected on Friday. Washington warned travelers away from Grenada.

CDERA said the control tower at Point Salines International Airport was damaged but the air-traffic control equipment was intact. The airport was open only to emergency relief flights.

Mitchell told reporters that two of the prisoners involved in a 1983 Marxist coup in Grenada, which prompted a U.S. invasion of the island, escaped from Richmond Hill prison when it was partly destroyed by the hurricane. He said coup leader Bernard Coard did not try to escape.

Copyright 2004 Reuters.