With maximum sustained winds of 230 kilometers an hour, Hurricane Ivan began lashing the island of Jamaica Friday. Ivan, the strongest hurricane yet of the 2004 season, is already responsible for at least 25 deaths in the Caribbean. Ivan could strike Cuba on Sunday and then become the third hurricane in less than a month to hit Florida early next week.
Ivan is the strongest hurricane to strike Jamaica since Hurricane Gilbert in 1988. Authorities in Jamaica urged about 500,000 people living in coastal areas to move to shelters but they say few did, as most people decided to stay home to protect their dwellings. Authorities in the tourist center of Montego Bay ordered private guards into the streets to prevent looting.
Ivan devastated the island of Grenada and there are fears it could do the same to Jamaica. Max Mayfield, the Director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, told reporters Ivan's heavy rains and Jamaica's mountainous terrain could be a deadly combination.
"This will be a tremendous impact to Jamaica and Cuba, but especially in Jamaica where they have the high terrain. They could easily have 6 - 10 inches [30 centimeters] of rain and mudslides in some areas," said Max Mayfield. "This is always a concern down in the Caribbean."
About 100 Caribbean troops have arrived in Grenada to try and restore law and order following Ivan's devastating impact on the island. Widespread looting and violence broke out after Ivan passed over the island of 100,000 people, destroying about 80 percent of the houses on the island. Some aid, including blankets, plastic sheeting and food and water for 20,000 people sent from the United States has begun arriving in Grenada. British sailors in the area have also arrived and are rebuilding the country's main airport as well as treating the injured.
In Cuba, President Fidel Castro urged Cubans to work together to rebuild whatever Hurricane Ivan destroys when it is expected to pass over Cuba on Sunday. Ivan is then forecast to become the third major hurricane to strike Florida in a month, although Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center says it is too early to say where exactly Ivan will come ashore in Florida.
"Well the most likely scenario at this time is for the core of the hurricane to come over central and western Cuba," he said. "A portion of the core will certainly go over the lower Keys, and then up the west coast. However we do not want to make the mistake that some people made with Hurricane Charley and think that this hurricane is going to stay on a course of a little skinny line."
Hurricane Charley confounded forecasters in August when in the space of several hours it dramatically increased in strength and changed course to come ashore in southwest Florida where it caused billions of dollars in damage.
Last week Hurricane Frances, an extremely slow moving storm, struck The Bahamas and eastern and central Florida causing more destruction. Authorities issued evacuation orders for the Florida Keys on Friday, saying Hurricane Ivan is currently stronger than either Charley or Frances and could come ashore by early Monday.