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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 September, 2004, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Strengthening Ivan heads to Cuba
Jamaican girl surveys the damage to her house
Jamaicans are finding out the true extent of devastation
Jamaica is counting the cost of the devastation caused by Hurricane Ivan, which is now churning north towards the Cayman Islands and Cuba.

Ivan has been upgraded to the most dangerous category-five level of hurricane and is one of the worst ever seen in the Caribbean.

The clean-up in Jamaica, where at least 14 people died, has begun but the full extent of the damage is not yet known.

Cubans and Cayman Islands residents were told to prepare for the worst.

Although the eye of the hurricane veered away from land at the last minute in Jamaica, winds travelling at 155 mph (250km/h) uprooted trees and power lines and ripped off roofs.

Homes and roads were swept away in flooding caused by heavy rain and huge waves up to 23-feet (seven metres) high.

Rain and winds have just picked up so we will see what happens, looks like it will be much closer than previously predicted
Sam & Alun, Grand Cayman

"This is definitely the worst thing I have experienced in my lifetime - and I have been through two major hurricanes," Ouida Ridguard told the BBC.

"Mercifully we were spared a direct hit," said Prime Minister PJ Patterson in an address to the nation.

Half a million people in the exposed eastern shores had been urged to move into shelters as Ivan approached, but many ignored the advice fearing their homes might be looted.

The BBC's Ian Pannell in Kingston said there had been reports of looting but police were primarily concerned with rescue work.

The damage has been widespread.

There is no electricity and many places are without water.

The country's two international airports are not scheduled to re-open until Monday.

With the intense driving rain that followed Ivan, flooding is continuing to be the main problem for Jamaicans, with many parts cut off from the rest of the island.

This means that any full assessment of the impact of the storm is still some way off, our correspondent says.

'Direct impact'

As Ivan moved north it strengthened to a rare, top-intensity category five hurricane with winds of 165mph (270km/h) and higher gusts.

At 0600 GMT, the eye of the hurricane, which is described as "extremely dangerous", was about 90 miles (145km) south-east of Grand Cayman island, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

Preparations in Havana
Cubans prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ivan
It was moving at a speed of nearly 8mph (13km/h) with maximum sustained wind speeds of 265km/h (165mph) and predicted to hit the Cayman Islands on Sunday.

The Cayman government has declared a state of emergency in the British dependency and warned its 45,000 citizens to prepare for "direct impact".

Hundreds boarded charter flights off the low-lying islands on Saturday.

Most of the 150 residents on Little Cayman were evacuated to Grand Cayman as many islanders headed for shelters, the Associated Press reported.

The rain and winds were picking up by mid-afternoon on Saturday, Sam and Alun in Grand Cayman told BBC News Online.

Disaster relief

Evacuation plans are also in place in Cuba, which is expecting the storm to hit on Monday.

HURRICANE TOLL
Grenada: At least 17 dead
Venezuela: 5 killed
Jamaica: 14 killed
Dominican Republic: 4 killed
Tobago: 1 killed

In what resembled a military operation, tens of thousands of people along the vulnerable south coast were moved to safer areas, the BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Havana reported.

In the capital itself, civil defence organisations ordered people to evacuate exposed vulnerable buildings and move in with relatives or friends or head for government shelters.

Stephen Gibbs says the option of staying behind is not being offered.

Shops were packed with people stocking up on non-perishable foods in preparation for weeks without electricity, and homes were being boarded up.

Ivan's current trajectory indicates it might spare Havana, but is on course to hit the important cigar tobacco-growing region in the west, our correspondent says.

The south-eastern US - already storm-weary after two major hurricanes in the last month - is also under threat, and mandatory evacuations are under way in Florida Keys.

The tiny spice island of Grenada was the first to feel the full force of Hurricane Ivan. At least 17 people died, and 90% of buildings were destroyed.

Disaster relief teams are on the island helping up to 60,000 left homeless by the storm. The International Red Cross has appealed for donations.

PREDICTED PATH OF HURRICANE IVAN




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Stephen Gibbs
"Cuba is certainly putting a pretty optimistic face on this"



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