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Hurricane Beryl Strengthens to Category 3 as It Nears Mexico

Photo : AP

Hurricane Beryl has strengthened back into a Category 3 storm as it approaches Mexico, after leaving a path of destruction across the eastern Caribbean and causing at least nine fatalities. The storm's resurgence, with winds reaching 115 mph (185 kph), was reported by the U.S. National Hurricane Center late Thursday. This comes after a brief period of weakening earlier in the day.

President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico issued a statement warning that Beryl might make a direct hit on Tulum, a popular tourist destination that, while smaller than Cancun, hosts thousands of visitors and residents. López Obrador advised people to seek higher ground, shelters, or stay with friends or family away from the immediate danger zone. "Don't hesitate, material possessions can be replaced," he emphasized.

Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at the U.S. Hurricane Center, noted that the primary immediate threat as the storm moves away from the Cayman Islands is its impending landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula. At the latest update, Beryl's center was approximately 135 miles (220 kilometers) east-southeast of Tulum, moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

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Beryl is expected to bring heavy rains and strong winds to Mexico's Caribbean coast before crossing the Yucatan Peninsula. It is anticipated to restrengthen in the Gulf of Mexico and potentially make a second landfall in northeastern Mexico. On Thursday afternoon, as winds began to gust over Tulum's beaches, authorities used four-wheelers with megaphones to urge people to evacuate. Despite the growing surf, some tourists were seen taking photos, while military personnel encouraged them to leave.

The storm has already inflicted significant damage in the Caribbean. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, it damaged or destroyed 95% of homes on Mayreau and Union Island. In Barbados, it disrupted fishing operations, and in Jamaica, it tore roofs off houses before passing by the Cayman Islands early Thursday. Mexico's Caribbean coast has been preparing for Beryl's impact by setting up shelters, evacuating small coastal communities, and relocating sea turtle eggs threatened by the storm surge.

In Playa del Carmen, businesses were closed and windows boarded up as tourists jogged by and locals walked their dogs under the sunny skies. In Tulum, authorities shut down operations and evacuated beachside hotels. Francisco Bencomo, the general manager of Hotel Umi in Tulum, confirmed that all guests had left and the hotel was locked down with no plans to reopen before July 10th. "We’ve cut the gas and electricity. We also have an emergency floor where two maintenance employees will be staying," he said. "I hope we have the least impact possible and that the hurricane moves quickly through Tulum."

Tourists in the area were also taking precautions. Lara Marsters, a therapist from Boise, Idaho, visiting Tulum, mentioned, "We filled all our empty water bottles with tap water and put them in the freezer for flushing the toilet. We expect the power to go out." Myriam Setra, a tourist from Dallas, Texas, decided to enjoy the last of the sunshine on Thursday, saying, "We’ll hunker down indoors until it passes."

Once Beryl re-emerges into the Gulf of Mexico, it is expected to regain hurricane strength and possibly hit near the Mexico-U.S. border at Matamoros, an area already affected by Tropical Storm Alberto in June. Temporary storm shelters are ready at schools and hotels, and efforts to evacuate vulnerable villages like Punta Allen and Mahahual have seen partial success.

In Jamaica, Beryl's worst damage seemed to be behind it. The storm's eye wall brushed the southern coast on Wednesday afternoon, leaving behind fallen telephone poles and trees blocking roads in Kingston. Authorities confirmed the deaths of a young man swept into a storm drain and a woman killed by a collapsed house. As residents began clearing debris, 60% of the island remained without electricity, and there was limited access to water and telecommunications. About 1,432 people were still in shelters, including Desrine Campbell from Old Harbour Bay, who lamented, "My house is almost flooded!" Carlton Golding, another resident, shared, "I lost everything this time."

The Cayman Islands' Premier, Juliana O’Connor, praised residents and visitors for their cooperation in maintaining calm and following storm protocols. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Michelle Forbes, the director of the National Emergency Management Organization, reported extensive damage to homes on Mayreau and Union Island. In Grenada and Carriacou, three fatalities were reported due to falling trees, and additional deaths were noted in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and northern Venezuela.

Separately, the U.S. National Hurricane Center announced the formation of Tropical Storm Aletta in the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s coast. Located about 190 miles (310 kilometers) from Manzanillo with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph (65 kph), Aletta is expected to head away from land and dissipate by the weekend.

July 5, 2024 11:16 a.m. 425

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