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Hurricane Beryl changes intensity to Category 4 as it powers toward Jamaica

Fishermen pull a boat damaged by Hurricane Beryl back to the dock at the Bridgetown Fisheries in Barbados on Monday.
Ricardo Mazalan
Fishermen pull a boat damaged by Hurricane Beryl back to the dock at the Bridgetown Fisheries in Barbados on Monday.

Updated July 02, 2024 at 16:51 PM ET

Hurricane Beryl continues to churn through the Caribbean and is expected to pass near or directly over Jamaica on Wednesday.

The once intensely powerful storm was downgraded to a Category 4 hurricane Tuesday afternoon with 155 mph winds, only 2 mph shy of returning to its previous Category 5 status.

Beryl has already caused widespread damage in several Caribbean island nations and left at least two people dead as it swept across the region earlier in the week.

The National Hurricane Center warns of “life-threatening winds and storm surge” in Jamaica for Wednesday. A hurricane warning is in effect for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.

“I’m encouraging all Jamaicans to take the hurricane as a serious threat,” Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness said in a video message Monday. “It is however not a time for panic. It is a time for us to be very strategic and calculated in our approach. We have 48 hours in which to prepare.”

A graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows the projected path of Hurricane Beryl.
/ National Hurricane Center
National Hurricane Center
A graphic from the National Hurricane Center shows the projected path of Hurricane Beryl.

All of Jamaica remained under a hurricane warning on Tuesday, meaning that meteorologists expect hurricane conditions to occur in the area and “preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion,” the National Hurricane Center said.

The island is expected to see hurricane-force winds and four to eight inches of rainfall, with some local rainfall totals as high as a foot. A storm surge could raise water levels by as much as five to eight feet along Jamaica’s coast.

Beryl may have hit peak intensity, but remains dangerous

National Hurricane Center director Michael Brennan said in a video briefing Tuesday morning that people in Jamaica should prepare for “multiple life-threatening” hazards from Beryl.

“Dangerous winds in the core of a major hurricane, life-threatening storm surge, life-threatening flash flooding from heavy rainfall,” he said.

Brennan said forecasters believe Beryl may have reached its peak intensity, with data showing its central pressure had risen and peak winds had dipped slightly. Still, he predicted it would be a “powerful hurricane” as it continues to cross the Caribbean.

Hurricane watches were in effect for Grand Cayman, Little Cayman, Cayman Brac and parts of Haiti’s southern coast. Other parts of Haiti’s coast, as well as parts of the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, were under a tropical storm warning.

The storm has left a trail of damage

Beryl left a trail of destruction in several countries in the eastern Caribbean Sea, including Barbados, St. Vincent and the Grenadine Islands and Grenada. Images showed buildings torn apart, trees downed and boats tossed around in harbors.

On Tuesday morning after Beryl had passed, Grenada Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said the nation was “coming to grips with the reality of the devastation” caused by the storm, particularly in the islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique. He said at least two deaths had been tentatively reported.

“The situation is grim,” Mitchell said after speaking with a local official on the islands. “There is no power. There is almost complete destruction of homes and buildings on the island. The roads are not passable, and in many instances, they are cut off because of the large quantity of debris strewn all over the streets.”

It’s unusual for an Atlantic hurricane of Beryl’s magnitude to occur this early in the season. When it was upgraded to a Category 4 storm over the weekend, it was the first-ever hurricane recorded at that strength in June.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.