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Hurricane Beryl heads to Mexico after wreaking havoc in Jamaica

Hurricane Beryl heads to Mexico after wreaking havoc in Jamaica

TULUM, Mexico (AP) — After leaving a trail of destruction in the eastern Caribbean and briefly losing strength, Hurricane Beryl strengthened again to a Category 3 storm Thursday evening as it approached Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where it was set to make landfall early in the morning in the tourist enclave of Tulum.

Beryl, the first Category 5 hurricane of the Atlantic season, is now packing maximum sustained winds of 185 kilometers per hour (115 miles per hour), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Early Friday, it was located 145 kilometers (90 miles) southeast of Tulum, Mexico, and was moving west at about 26 kilometers per hour (16 mph).

“The trajectory of Category 3 Hurricane Beryl indicates that it will enter Tulum, a populated area close to the sea,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who urged people to evacuate the most vulnerable areas and go to safe areas or shelters. “Let’s not hesitate, the material has been recovered. The most important thing is life.”

Once a quiet, peaceful town, Tulum has grown considerably in recent years, and although it is still smaller than Cancun – which lies 130 kilometres (80 miles) to the north – it now has about 50,000 permanent residents and at least as many tourists on a typical day.

The impact was expected to occur around midnight or in the early morning hours.

Beryl is expected to bring heavy rains and winds to Mexico’s Caribbean coast, before crossing the Yucatan Peninsula – where it is expected to weaken – and then strengthening again in the Gulf of Mexico and making landfall again in an area near the Mexico-U.S. border in the city of Matamoros. This area was already hit in June by Tropical Storm Alberto.

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As the winds began to whip Tulum’s white-sand beaches, four-wheel drive vehicles with loudspeakers drove across the sand, telling people to leave. Some tourists took pictures of the huge waves, but they gradually took shelter.

In recent days, Hurricane Beryl damaged or destroyed 95 percent of homes on two islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and also caused damage in Barbados and Jamaica before passing through the Cayman Islands early Thursday and heading toward Mexico.

In Tulum, authorities ordered businesses to close and hotels on the seafront to be evacuated. According to the state governor, Mara Lezama, early Thursday afternoon, there were already 10 shelters prepared for 340 people.

The resort city now has its own international airport, which closed early Thursday afternoon, and most of its territory is just a few metres above sea level. Cancun’s airport was still operating as the night fell, with about 350 flights cancelled or delayed.

Francisco Bencomo, manager of the Umi Hotel in Tulum, said all guests had left. “Under the circumstances, we are completely protected,” he said, adding that they do not plan to have guests return before July 10.

“The gas and electricity have been cut off,” he added. “We also have an emergency station where two maintenance staff will stay protected” at the farthest part of the beach and with fewer windows. “I hope the impact on the hotel is as minimal as possible, and that it passes as quickly as possible.”

Some tourists were taking precautions, like Lara Marsters, a 54-year-old healer visiting Tulum from Boise, Idaho, who opted to “fill all our empty water bottles with tap water and put them in the fridge… so we’d have water for the toilet. Let’s dig in and be safe,” she added.

Others were making the most of the last hours on the beach before the hurricane. Miriam Citra, a 34-year-old tourist from Dallas, Texas, was eating a sandwich, taking advantage of the last rays of sun. “Then you just have to hunker down and stay behind closed doors until it happens.”

Along this popular coastline lined with hotels and resorts, small coastal communities and more than 3,000 people were evacuated from the tourist island of Holbox off the tip of the peninsula. Hundreds of people opted to go to shelters, and authorities even removed turtle eggs from beaches that could be destroyed by strong waves.

In Playa del Carmen, most businesses were closed on Thursday. Some had their windows closed as tourists exercised and locals walked their dogs under sunny skies.

The worst of Beryl’s damage so far was behind it. Its eye hit Jamaica’s south coast Wednesday afternoon, while telephone poles and trees blocked streets in the capital, Kingston, on Thursday morning.

Authorities confirmed that a young man died on Wednesday after being dragged into a storm drain while trying to retrieve a ball. A woman also died after a house collapsed on her.

Residents took advantage of the cessation of rain to start removing the rubble.

Nearly 60 percent of the island was still without electricity, and there was also a lack of water and poor communications. Government officials were assessing the damage, but their efforts were hampered by poor communications, especially in the southern areas, which were the hardest hit.

About 1,432 people remained in shelters in Jamaica, including Desryn Campbell, a resident of the low-lying community of Old Harbour Bay. “My house was almost flooded,” she said.

Nearby, Carlton Golding lamented, “This time I lost everything.” The tornado completely destroyed Golding’s home, the second time he had suffered damage from storms.

In the south-central Clarendon area, residents were trying to repair damaged roofs and remove fallen trees. Many streets in the area remained partially closed due to downed power and telecommunications poles.

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

About 95% of homes in Mairu and the Union Islands were damaged by Hurricane Beryl, said Michelle Forbes, director of the National Emergency Management Organization in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

Three people were reported killed in Grenada and Carriacou and another in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, authorities said. Three more people died in northern Venezuela, where four are also missing, officials said.

One of the deaths in Grenada occurred after a tree fell on a house, Environment Minister Kerryn James told The Associated Press.

The Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves, has promised to rebuild the archipelago.

Meanwhile, the National Hurricane Center reported that Tropical Storm Aletta formed in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico. Aletta, which was located about 310 kilometers (190 miles) from the port of Manzanillo and had maximum sustained winds of 65 km/h (40 mph), is expected to move out to sea and dissipate over the weekend.

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Myers reported from Kingston, Jamaica. Associated Press journalists Renloy Traill in Kingston, Jamaica; Mark Stevenson, Maria Verza and Mariana Martinez Barba in Mexico City; Coral Murphy Marcus in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Lucanus Olivier in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, contributed to this report.