Hurricane Beryl- earliest Cat 5 storm to hit the Caribbean

5th July 2024

Countries across the region are reeling from the effects of Hurricane Beryl, a Category 5 storm which swept across the South Eastern Caribbean to Jamaica and Cayman leaving over seven dead and thousands homeless.

The storm was unprecedented both in term of the speed with which it intensified from a tropical storm to a hurricane, and how early in the year it came.   Hurricane Beryl was the first Category 5 storm to hit the Caribbean this early in the year in over 100 years of records with scientists attributing the very fast intensification and early date of the storm, to the record high temperature of surface waters – reaching 30 degrees centigrade, well over the normal threshold of 27 degrees which provokes hurricane formation.

After hitting Barbados on 1st July with high winds and storm surge, the hurricane continued its path, causing further damage in Dominica and Saint Lucia and then increased in strength to a Category 5 storm where it was most destructive to islands in St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada.   The storm’s intensity then diminished to a Category 4, and as it glanced off the South Coast of Jamaica and to the South of the Cayman Islands, the level of damage and destruction was mercifully less severe than was initially feared.  There was still widespread damage to buildings, fallen trees, storm surges resulting in flooding, power outages and disruption to water supplies and telecommunications.  60% of customers were without electricity in Jamaica at one point.

The most severe devastation has been recorded in Grenada’ sister islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, and the Grenadine islands of Union, Bequia and Canouan with 90% of the housing stock damaged in the most affected islands

Carriacou and Petit Martinique suffered between 70% and 97% of buildings damaged, respectively, and severe agricultural destruction.  Satellite images from the Copernicus damage assessment highlight the widespread devastation. In Grenada itself, the northern parishes of St. Patrick, St. David, and St. Andrew experienced significant housing and agricultural losses.

Describing the destruction on Carriacou, Grenada PM Dickon Mitchell said  “Having seen it myself, there is really nothing that could prepare you to see this level of destruction. It is almost Armageddon-like. Almost total damage or destruction of all buildings, whether they be public buildings, homes or private facilities. Complete devastation and destruction of agriculture, complete and total destruction of the natural environment. There is literally no vegetation left anywhere on the island of Carriacou.”

In St Vincent and the Grenadine’s Union Island, critical infrastructure such as schools and hospitals were destroyed, leaving residents without essential services like electricity, water, and communication. The destruction of rainwater harvesting systems has exacerbated the humanitarian crisis, leaving many vulnerable to health risks.   The airport terminal and power plant on Union Island is reportedly extensively damaged.  On Canouan, almost all buildings sustained damage, with roofs ripped off and severe shortages of water and electricity.  The full extent of damage in Canouan and Mayreau is still not known due to telecoms outages.

Regional disaster response mechanism, CDEMA, has already deployed several teams to the affected islands together with the National Emergency Management Coordinators, the UN Emergency Technical Team (UNETT) and the private sector.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, reiterated his solidarity with countries affected by hurricane Beryl, releasing $4 million from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to Grenada, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Jamaica. The European Union has approved US$486,600 in humanitarian aid for SVG and Grenada.

In the aftermath of the hurricane however, leaders of the worse affected Caribbean nations expressed their concerns about access to international finance to fund rebuilding and called on richer countries to honour their climate commitments.  Ralph Gonsalves, Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines said:

“For the major emitters of greenhouse gases, those who contribute most to global warming, you are getting a lot of talking, but you are not seeing a lot of action – as in making money available to small-island developing states and other vulnerable countries.  I am hopeful that what is happening – and we are quite early in the hurricane season – will alert them to our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses and encourage them to honour the commitments they have made on a range of issues, from the Paris accord to the current time.”

Other countries across CARICOM have been quick to offer support with shipments of emergency supplies and shelter being provided by unaffected Governments and their private sectors in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda among others.