KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Jamaicans rushed to stock up on emergency supplies and officials urged coastal areas evacuated yesterday as a slightly weakened Hurricane Emily churned toward the Caribbean island after ravaging Grenada.
Packing winds of 115 miles per hour, the second major hurricane of the Atlantic season came unusually early and made its presence felt hundreds of miles away, unleashing heavy surf, gusty winds, and torrential rains on islands in the Caribbean Sea.
The Category 3 storm was nearly 400 miles southeast of Jamaica's capital and was moving westward at nearly 20 miles per hour, with a turn toward the northwest expected to take it very close to Jamaica today, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
If Emily continues on the same path, the storm will make landfall sometime Wednesday between Tuxpan, Mexico, and Galveston, Texas, about a 600-mile span, hurricane center spokesman Frank Lepore said, cautioning that ''a lot could change between now and then."
Jamaica posted a hurricane warning. Prime Minister P.J. Patterson ordered government offices to close early yesterday and instructed disaster authorities to draw up plans to evacuate thousands of residents in flood-prone coastal areas.
Jamaicans formed long lines at grocery stores to stock up on water, canned food, and batteries, only a week after doing the same for Hurricane Dennis, which washed away several homes, damaged crops and flooded roads. Many islanders refused to seek shelter during Dennis, fearful of leaving their belongings unguarded.
''I'm hoping that those who are in these areas will heed the call to evacuate before it's too late," Transport and Works Minister Robert Pickersgill said on RJR radio.
Grenada -- still recovering from last year's Hurricane Ivan -- declared a national disaster yesterday, a day after Emily destroyed at least 16 homes, blasted out windows, sheared off roofs and flooded two hospitals and scores of other buildings. Landslides and fallen trees blocked roads, streets were flooded, and crops were destroyed. At least one person was killed in Grenada.
Emily's winds decreased to near 115 miles per hour yesterday afternoon after reaching a high of 135 miles per hour earlier in the day, making it briefly what meteorologist Stacy Stewart called a ''very rare Category 4 hurricane in the Caribbean Sea in the month of July."