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Last Updated: Sunday, 12 September, 2004, 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK
'It's just ripping things up'
By Stephen Robb
BBC News Online

As Hurricane Ivan continued its devastating path across the Caribbean, BBC News Online spoke by telephone to a Briton living on Grand Cayman shortly before the eye of the storm was due to hit.

A flooded street in Kingston, Jamaica
The full extent of the damage to Jamaica is not yet known
Teacher Michael Whyte and two friends had decided against going to a storm shelter, hoping that flooding would not reach his first-floor apartment outside the capital Georgetown.

"I think it's as safe as anywhere," Mr Whyte said when we spoke to him at 0530 local time (1130 BST).

He said the first effects of the storm had hit the island at about 2200 local time (0400 BST) on Saturday night.

"One of the local radio stations is saying 165mph winds, with gusts up to 210," Mr Whyte said.

"It's just ripping things up and throwing them away. Anything that isn't nailed down is just flying around.

A palm tree has just been bent over as if it's a twig and there are sheets of water coming down
"All week people have been cutting down the coconuts from the trees to reduce the risk of them becoming missiles. Everything else, all the foliage, is coming off. Bins are just being tossed around.

"A palm tree has just been bent over as if it's a twig. There are sheets of water coming down.

"As horrible as this is, it's actually a magnificent sight. It's just awe-inspiring."

The 32-year-old teacher, who is originally from Bolton, said that the wind had cracked all the windows in his home, and they were now just being held together with tape.

"I am paddling around in my apartment. The water comes through the cracks in the windows, through the door frames and window frames."

The sea will be 16 feet higher than normal, with waves 15 feet above that... anywhere on the coast is going to be under several feet of water
But he added: "The real problems haven't started yet, the real problems will start after we hit the eye."

Mr Whyte said a "storm surge" was expected after the eye had passed the Cayman Islands on Sunday.

"It basically means that the sea will be 16 ft higher than normal, with waves 15 feet above that," he said.

"The highest point on Grand Cayman is 60ft above sea level, so the maths is quite simple; anywhere on the coast is going to be under several feet of water. All this area will be flooded.

It went south of Jamaica which meant it was on a real beeline for us
"It's now just a case of waiting for the dawn and then just keeping an eye on how the storm surge goes. It will certainly get to the bottom of my building and it's just a case of how high it rises."

Forecasters originally predicted the eye of the hurricane would miss Grand Cayman, Mr Whyte said.

"We didn't think it was going to come this close and we would have just got tropical storm conditions, but it kept drifting west.

"It didn't go over Jamaica - it went south of Jamaica which meant it was on a real beeline for us."


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