- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 12, 2004

GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands — Hurricane Ivan battered the Cayman Islands with ferocious 150-mph winds yesterday, flooding homes, ripping off roofs and toppling trees three stories tall as its powerful eye thundered just offshore.

Ivan has killed at least 60 persons in its path of destruction across the Caribbean and was headed next for western Cuba, which it was expected to hit today. It also could brush the Florida Keys and parts of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The hurricane, which grew to Category 5 with 165-mph winds Saturday, lost some strength before tearing into the Cayman Islands chain, a popular scuba-diving destination and banking center.

“It’s as bad as it can possibly get,” Justin Uzzell, 35, said by telephone from his fifth-floor refuge in Grand Cayman. “It’s a horizontal blizzard. The air is just foam.”

The islands are better prepared for the punishment than Grenada and Jamaica, which were slammed by Ivan in the past week — though Jamaica was spared a direct hit on Saturday. The Caymans have strict building codes and none of the shantytowns and tin shacks common elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Although it was nearly a direct hit on Grand Cayman, the eye of the storm did not make landfall, passing instead over water just south of the island, said Rafael Mojica, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Still, emergency officials said residents from all parts of the island were reporting blown-off roofs and flooded homes as Ivan’s shrieking winds and driving rain approached Grand Cayman, the largest of three islands that comprise the British territory of 45,000 people.

The government said Grand Cayman was “experiencing the most severe portion of Hurricane Ivan” yesterday morning, with peak winds of 150 mph.

“We know there is damage and it is severe,” said Wes Emanuel of the Government Information Service.

The airport runway was flooded, and trees were wrenched from their roots, including a giant Cayman mahogany next to the government headquarters in downtown George Town. Radio Cayman went off the air temporarily before resuming broadcasts.

Though there were no immediate reports of injuries in the Caymans, the death toll elsewhere rose as hospital officials in Jamaica reported four more deaths, for a total of 15. At least 34 persons were killed in Grenada, where the hurricane left widespread destruction. Deaths also occurred on other islands and in Venezuela.

In Cuba, the threatened area includes densely populated Havana, where traffic was light yesterday morning as most people took shelter. About 800,000 people across the island of 11.2 million had been evacuated by yesterday morning, with most seeking refuge with relatives, the official Prensa Latina news agency reported.

“This country is prepared to face this hurricane,” President Fidel Castro said Saturday night.

Ivan is the most powerful storm to threaten the country since Mr. Castro came to power in 1959.

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