Hurricane Beryl churns toward Mexico after leaving destruction in Jamaica and eastern Caribbean

TULUM, Mexico (AP) — Hurricane Beryl ripped off roofs in Jamaica, jumbled fishing boats in Barbados and damaged or destroyed 95% of homes on a pair of islands in St. Vincent and the Grenadines before rumbling past the Cayman Islands early Thursday and taking aim at Mexico’s Caribbean coast after leaving at least seven people dead in its wake.

What had been the earliest storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic, weakened to a Category 3 by early Thursday but remained a major hurricane.

“Weakening is forecast during the next day or two, though Beryl is forecast to remain a hurricane until it makes landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula,” the National Hurricane Center in Miami said in its 8 a.m. update.

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, but in nightlife hotspots like Playa del Carmen and Tulum tourists still took one more night on the town.

In Playa del Carmen, most businesses were closed on Thursday and some were boarding up windows as tourists were jogging and some locals walked their dogs under sunny skies. In Tulum, Mexico’s Navy patrolled the streets telling tourists in Spanish and English to prepare for the storm’s arrival. Everything was scheduled to shut down by midday.

Early on Thursday morning, the storm’s center was about 95 miles (150 kilometers) west-southwest of Grand Cayman island and 330 miles (530 kilometers) east-southeast of Tulum. It had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 18 mph (about 30 kph).

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.

“We have done everything possible that we could have done to face the various challenges ahead of us,” she said in a press briefing.

The head of Mexico’s civil defense agency, Laura Velázquez, said Thursday that Beryl is expected to be a Category 1 hurricane when it hits a relatively unpopulated stretch of Mexico’s Caribbean coast south of Tulum early Friday.

But once Beryl re-emerges into the Gulf of Mexico a day later, she said 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 being set up at schools and hotels in case they are needed. She efforts to evacuate a few highly exposed villages — like Punta Allen, which sits on a narrow spit of land south of Tulum — had been only partially successful.

The storm had already shown its destructive potential across a long swath of the southeastern Caribbean.

Beryl’s eye wall brushed by Jamaica’s southern coast Wednesday afternoon knocking out power and ripping roofs off homes. Prime Minister Andrew Holness said Jamaica had not seen the “worst of what could possibly happen.”

“We can do as much as we can do, as humanly possible, and we leave the rest in the hands of God,” Holness said.

Several roadways in Jamaica’s interior settlements were impacted by fallen trees and utility poles, while some communities in the northern section were without electricity, according to the government’s Information Service.

The worst perhaps came earlier in Beryl’s trajectory when it smacked two small islands of the Lesser Antilles.

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.

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

In Cancun on Wednesday afternoon, Donna McNaughton, a 43-year-old cardiac physiologist from Scotland, was taking the approaching storm in stride.

Her flight home wasn’t leaving until Monday, so she planned to follow her hotel’s advice to wait it out.

“We’re not too scared of. It’ll die down,” she said. “And we’re used to wind and rain in Scotland anyway.”

Associated Press journalists John Myers Jr. and Renloy Trail in Kingston, Jamaica, Mark Stevenson and María Verza in Mexico City, Coral Murphy Marcos in San Juan, Puerto Rico and Lucanus Ollivierre in Kingstown, St. Vincent and Grenadines contributed to this report.

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