Hurricane Gilbert, a killer storm packing 140 mph winds, swept past the Cayman Islands on Tuesday after devastating Jamaica and the Dominican Republic with fierce rains, flash floods and mud-slides, weather and radio reports said.
Civil defense officials in the Dominican Republic Tuesday reported five people died, including four children, when Gilbert skirted its Caribbean shores Sunday.There were unconfirmed reports at least 30 other people died Monday when Gilbert pounded Jamaica. The confirmed death toll was expected to be far higher.
Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., Tuesday described Gilbert as "a great hurricane," saying historically, "It's certainly in the top 10 percent as far as intensity, size and destructive potential."
The last "great hurricane" to make landfall was Elena, which severely damaged the Gulf Coast area of the United States in 1985.
In New York City, a ham radio operator who was monitoring amateur radio communications in Jamaica Tuesday said, "Kingston is devastated, Montego Bay is hit hard and Ocho Rios is flooded.
"According to them, telephones are down and electricity is down," said the operator, Norm Chwat, an officer with the American Red Cross Radio Club. He said there was an unconfirmed report a tourist hotel on Jamaica's popular north coast had been wrecked by the hurricane.
The National Weather Service and radio operators said they received reports of heavy damage in Kingston, the capital of 750,000, on the southeast coast and Montego Bay on the northwest. Twenty-foot waves pounded the northern resort of Ocho Rios and tourists were evacuated from beachside hotels.
At noon EDT, the Weather Service said Gilbert was centered near latitude 19.1 north, longitude 82.1 west, just southwest of Grand Cayman and 330 miles from the Mexican resort island of Cozumel. It was moving west to west-northwest at about 15 mph with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph.
There were no immediate reports of damage to the Cayman Islands, where heavy rains and tides of up to 12 feet were likely, forecasters said. The three-island chain is very flat, conditions that "could undermine buildings along the beach," Sheets said.