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Ivan slams Grenada, nears Jamaica

Hurricane kills 23; downgraded storm also could hit Fla.

ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada -- Hurricane Ivan took aim yesterday at Jamaica and possibly Florida after killing 23 people in five countries and devastating Grenada, where police fired tear gas to stop a looting frenzy and barricaded roads leading into the capital.

Ivan, the deadliest hurricane to hit the Caribbean in a decade, pummeled Grenada, Barbados, and other southern islands Tuesday.

It weakened slightly and was downgraded yesterday from a Category 5 hurricane -- the most powerful -- to a Category 4 storm packing 150-mile-per-hour winds but was still expected to pound Jamaica today. Officials urged a half million people to evacuate coastal and flood-prone areas.

"I don't think it will make much difference to the impact for Jamaica because they're going to get a direct hit," said Chris Hennon, a meteorologist at the US National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The dead included a 75-year-old Canadian woman who drowned in a canal swollen by flood waters in Barbados after going out in the storm to search for her cat, and four youngsters in the capital of the Dominican Republic who were swept away by a giant wave yesterday even though the storm was nearly 200 miles from land.

US officials ordered people to evacuate the Florida Keys after forecasters said the storm -- the fourth major hurricane of a busy Atlantic season -- could hit the island chain by Sunday after crossing over Cuba. It was the third evacuation ordered there in a month, following Hurricane Charley and hard on the heels of Hurricane Frances.

Officials were also considering evacuating the 1,000 American citizens in Grenada, mostly university students who said they want to leave.

The storm left its worst damage in Grenada, where from the air it appeared that nearly every house had been ripped up. Hunks of twisted metal and splintered wood torn from homes were strewn across the hillsides and roads of this country of 100,000 people. Many trees were snapped off, and those left standing were stripped of their leaves. The stone walls of the capital's cathedral withstood the storm, but the entire roof had caved in.

In St. George's, Grenada's capital, police fired tear gas to try to stop a looting frenzy. Hundreds of people, including entire families with children, smashed hurricane shutters and shop windows to take televisions and shopping carts of food. A reporter watched people walk away with bed frames and mattresses on their heads.

Troops from other Caribbean nations were on the way to help restore order.

Police set up barricades on roads leading into the capital yesterday afternoon and ordered everyone except emergency personnel off the streets. Hundreds of screaming and shoving people said they had to get to town to buy water and food. Police fired more tear gas.

But many managed to get through, saying they were desperate for water.

Among them was Dawn Brown, a 30-year-old housewife, who said she and her children ran from room to room in her home as Ivan ripped off sections of their roof. Eventually, the house was left roofless and the family hid beneath a mattress as the 130-mile-per-hour winds howled around them.

"I stared death in its face. What could be more scary than that?" Brown said as she wandered the streets in search of water. The island has had no running water since Monday, when officials turned it off to save the plant from damage.

Hurricane Ivan ripped up nearly every utility pole, leaving residents without electricity and landline telephone service. Patchy cellular phone service was restored yesterday.

The first shipment of emergency relief arrived yesterday from the United States, which declared Grenada a disaster area to allow the immediate release of $50,000. There were enough blankets, plastic sheeting, dry food, and water for 20,000 people, according to the US Embassy in Barbados.

"I want to be home where I can feel safe," said Lesleigh Redavid, 22, a St. George's University student from Port Jefferson, N.Y. "It was really scary. Our room flooded, and we were in pitch black with windows shattering around us. We have no candles, no flashlights or batteries."

On Wednesday night, students armed themselves with knives and sticks, fearing they would be attacked by looters.

In Jamaica, hundreds of tourists packed the airport of Montego Bay resort.

At the airport of Kingston, the capital, dozens of foreigners lined up for tickets.

"We were going to stick it out, but the company I work for told everybody to evacuate," said Dennis Hennessey, 39, a building contractor from Essex Junction, Vt., who was helping build the new US Embassy.

"They say Jamaica is a blessed place, and I hope it is," he said.

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