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Hurricane Beryl strengthens back into a Category 3 storm as it nears Mexico

Homes destroyed by Hurricane Beryl lie in Clifton, Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on Thursday.
Lucanus Ollivierre
/
AP
Homes destroyed by Hurricane Beryl lie in Clifton, Union Island, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, on Thursday.

TULUM, Mexico — After leaving a trail of destruction across the eastern Caribbean and at least nine people dead, Hurricane Beryl strengthened back into a Category 3 storm late Thursday as it chugged over open water toward Mexico's resort-studded Yucatan Peninsula.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Beryl, which was the earliest Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, now had winds of 115 mph (185 kph ) after weakening earlier Thursday.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador issued a statement saying Beryl may make a direct hit on Tulum, which, while smaller than Cancun, still holds thousands of tourists and residents.

“It is recommendable that people get to higher ground, shelters or the homes of friends or family elsewhere,” López Obrador wrote. “Don't hesitate, material possessions can be replaced.”

Jack Beven, senior hurricane specialist at the U.S. Hurricane Center, said “the biggest immediate threat now that the storm is moving away from the Cayman Islands is landfall in the Yucatan Peninsula.”

The storm’s center was about 135 miles (220 kilometers) east-southeast of Tulum, Mexico, and was moving west-northwest at 16 mph (about 26 kph), the hurricane center said.

Beryl was expected to bring heavy rain and winds to Mexico's Caribbean coast, before crossing the Yucatan peninsula and restrengthening in the Gulf of Mexico to make a second strike on northeast Mexico.

As the wind began gusting over Tulum's white sand beaches on Thursday afternoon, four-wheelers with megaphones rolled along the sand telling people to leave. Tourists snapped photos of the growing surf, but military personnel urged them to leave as Beryl headed to an expected landfall around Tulum early Friday.

Over the past days, Beryl has damaged or destroyed 95% of homes on a pair of islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, jumbled fishing boats in Barbados and ripped off roofs in Jamaica before rumbling past the Cayman Islands early Thursday.

Mexico’s popular Caribbean coast prepared shelters, evacuated some small outlying coastal communities and even moved sea turtle eggs off beaches threatened by storm surge.

In Playa del Carmen, most businesses were closed Thursday and some were boarding up windows as tourists jogged by and some locals walked their dogs under sunny skies. In Tulum, authorities shut things down and evacuated beachside hotels.

Francisco Bencomo, General manager of Hotel Umi in Tulum said all of their guests had left. “With these conditions, we’ll be completely locked down,” he said, adding there were no plans to have guests return before July 10th.

“We’ve cut the gas and electricity. We also have an emergency floor where two maintenance employees will be locking down,” he said from the hotel. “We have them staying in the room farthest from the beach and windows.”

“I hope we have the least impact possible on the hotel, that the hurricane moves quickly through Tulum, and that it’s nothing serious,” he said.

Tourists were also taking precautions. Lara Marsters, 54, a therapist visiting Tulum from Boise, Idaho, said “this morning we woke up and just filled all of our empty water bottles with water from the tap and put it in the freezer … so we will have water to flush the toilet.”

“We expect that the power will go out,” Marsters said. “We’re going to hunker down and stay safe.”

Myriam Setra, a 34-year-old tourist from Dallas, Texas was having a sandwich on the beach earlier Thursday, saying “figured we’d get the last of the sun in today, too. And then it’s just going to be hunker down and just stay indoors until hopefully it passes.”

But once Beryl re-emerges into the Gulf of Mexico a day later, forecasters say it is again expected to build to hurricane strength and could hit right around the Mexico-U.S. border, at Matamoros. That area was already soaked in June by Tropical Storm Alberto.

Velázquez said temporary storm shelters were in place at schools and hotels but efforts to evacuate a few highly exposed villages — like Punta Allen, which sits on a narrow spit of land south of Tulum — and Mahahual, further south — had been only partially successful.

Beryl's worst damage appeared to be behind it. Its eye wall brushed by Jamaica’s southern coast on Wednesday afternoon while on Thursday morning, telephone poles and trees were blocking the roadways in Kingston.

Authorities confirmed a young man died on Wednesday after he was swept into a storm water drain while trying to retrieve a ball. A woman also died after a house collapsed on her.

Residents took advantage of a break in the rain to begin clearing debris.

Sixty percent of the island remained without electricity, along with a lack of water and limited telecommunications. Government officials were assessing the damage, but it was hampered by the lack of communication, mainly in southern parishes that suffered the most damage.

Some 1,432 people remained in shelters in Jamaica, like Desrine Campbell, a resident of the low-lying community of Old Harbour Bay, who wailed, “My house is almost flooded!”

Nearby, Carlton Golding said ruefully, “I lost everything this time." Golding's house was totally destroyed by the hurricane, the second time that he has suffered damage from storms.

In the south-central parish of Clarendon, residents attempted to mend damaged roofs and clear downed trees. Many roadways in the area remained partially blocked from downed electricity and telecommunication poles.

The premier of the Cayman Islands, Juliana O’Connor, thanked residents and visitors Thursday for contributing to the “collective calm” ahead of Beryl by following storm protocols.

Michelle Forbes, the St. Vincent and Grenadines director of the National Emergency Management Organization, said that about 95% of homes in Mayreau and Union Island have been damaged by Hurricane Beryl.

Three people were reported killed in Grenada and Carriacou and another in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said. Three other deaths were reported in northern Venezuela, where four people were missing, officials said.

One fatality in Grenada occurred after a tree fell on a house, Kerryne James, the environment minister, told The Associated Press.

Separately, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Thursday that Tropical Storm Aletta had formed in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s coast. Aletta, which was located about 190 miles (310 kilometers) from Manzanillo and had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph), was forecast to head away from land and dissipate by the weekend.

Copyright 2024 NPR

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[Copyright 2024 NPR]