The destruction of Hurricane Beryl shown in Carriacou, a Grenadine island of Grenada on July 2. (Photo: FACEBOOK: DEXTER LEGGARD)

Hurricane Beryl swept across the Caribbean this week as an unusually early Category Five storm, laying waste to several islands, causing at least nine reported deaths, and lending credence to experts’ previous predictions that this Atlantic Hurricane Season could be one of the worst ever.

“I think the fact that we have had Beryl occurring so early in the season and reaching a Category Five strength now — this is not a usual thing that we see with respect to the system,” Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Elizabeth Riley said during a virtual press conference yesterday. “So we are very mindful of this. And we will continue to be in dialogue with the governments of the impacted states to work out the best solutions to ensure that the population is kept safe.”

Beryl is the earliest Category Five hurricane on record in the Atlantic Basin, according to the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Early in the week, the islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines as well as Grenada “bore the brunt” of the storm as the eye passed between the two countries, Ms. Riley said.

The Grenadines island chain between St. Vincent and Grenada was hardest hit, with the majority of houses and buildings on some of the islands destroyed. SVG’s Union Island, for instance, saw 98 percent of its buildings “badly damaged or destroyed,” according to Ms. Riley.

Images circulating of some of the worst-hit areas show catastrophic damage including levelled homes, massive piles of debris, and demolished boats.

Other islands, including St. Lucia, Barbados and Tobago, also sustained significant damage, and the effects of the storm reached as far north as Dominica.

The hurricane was downgraded to Category 4 before it made landfall in Jamaica yesterday, bringing heavy winds and rain as its eyewall “brushed” the island’s south coast, according to the Weather Channel.

After causing extensive damage to parts of southern Jamaica, Beryl was passing south of the Cayman Islands as a Category 3 storm as of early this afternoon. The storm is expected to make landfall along the Yucatan Peninsula early tomorrow.

Ms. Riley said yesterday that no official death toll had been released. However, news agencies reported widely that at least nine deaths had been logged so far: three in Grenada, one in SVG, three in Venezuela and two in Jamaica.

Ms. Riley also pointed out that climate change is a key contributor to the strength of a hurricane so early in a season that is predicted to be very active.

“This year, we have had the warmest ocean temperatures on record,” she said. “And these are things that we have to pay attention to because of what has happened with Beryl in terms of the rapid intensification and the destructive path that has resulted from that. These are things that are going to become much more common in not only our Caribbean space, but in other spaces as well.”

In April, forecasters at the Colorado State University Tropical Meteorology Project warned that this Atlantic Hurricane Season was expected to be “extremely active,” with 23 named storms between June 1 and Nov. 30. Of those storms, 11 were predicted to be hurricanes, and five were expected to develop into major hurricanes of Category Three or stronger, according to the report.

These numbers are well above the 1991-2020 average of about 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

“This is our highest prediction that we have ever issued with our April outlook,” states the report, which was led by Senior Research Scientist Dr. Phil Klotzbach. “Our prior highest April forecast was for nine hurricanes, which we have called for several times since we began issuing April forecasts in 1995.”

Ms. Riley noted yesterday that climate change does not just affect the severity of hurricanes. The excessive heat warnings the region is currently experiencing are “very unusual” as well, she said. The heat can lead to droughts, which, in turn, increase the chance of landslides, she said.

Ms. Riley also highlighted the importance of resilience.

“We have to emphasise the points of building resilience across all states, and building resilience at the sectoral and the community level is absolutely critical,” she said. “And we often like to say that even in the midst of the destruction of events we have opportunities, and the opportunity is certainly here to push for resilient recovery.”