`Gilbert' Heading Toward Mexican Coast

Hurricane Nears Yucatan After Devastating Jamaica, Caymans

Hurricane Gilbert, one of the strongest storms in history, roared toward Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula yesterday with 160 mph winds and torrential rains after lashing the tiny, low-lying Cayman Islands.

The hurricane, traveling westward across the Caribbean Sea, was upgraded yesterday to Category 5, the strongest and most deadly type of hurricane. Such storms have winds greater than 155 mph and cause catastrophic damage.

Gilbert, which devastated Jamaica and the Dominican Republic with flash floods and mudslides, has killed at least five people.

Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center in Coral Gables, Fla., described Gilbert as "a great hurricane" that is "in the top 10 percent [historically] as far as intensity, size and destructive potential."

He compared its intensity to that of Hurricane Allen, which killed 2000 people in the Dominican Republic in 1979.


Only two Category 5 hurricanes have hit the United States--a 1935 storm that killed 600 people in Florida, and Hurricane Camille, which devastated the Mississippi coast in 1969 and killed 256 people.

"The people who need to be concerned now are those people over on the Yucatan Peninsula--Cancun, Cozumel, that whole area," Sheets said.

"There is very serious flooding" in the Cayman Islands, Erina Nichols, a tourism official in Miami, said yesterday after speaking with residents of the islands.

The storm later knocked out all telephone service to the Cayman Islands, a British dependency of 23,000 people that was expecting 12-foot tides.

The Cuban news agency Prensa Latina said 40,000 people, many of them foreign vacationers and students, were evacuated yesterday from the Isle of Youth off the southwestern coast as the hurricane passed 200 miles to the south.

There were no immediate reports of damage there.

The death toll from Hurrican Gilbert was expected to rise.

There were unconfirmed reports that at least 30 people died Monday when Gilbert struck Jamaica. Civil defense officials said the storm killed five people Sunday in the Dominican Republic.

In New York City, a ham radio operator who was monitoring amateur radio communications in Jamaica said yesterday, "Kingston is devastated, Montego Bay is hit hard and Ocho Rios is flooded."

The operator, Norm Chwat, an officer with the American Red Cross Radio Club, said there was an unconfirmed report that a tourist hotel on Jamaica's popular north coast had been wrecked by the hurricane.

Herb Schoenbaum, a radio ham operator in the Virgin Islands, said he spoke yesterday with Dave Porter, an American staying in the Wyndham Hotel on Jamaica's Montego Bay. "Porter reported that the hotel `peeled apart like a banana' when the force of Hurricane Gilbert hit last night," Schoenbaum said.

"This morning he says there is just nothing left. Boats that were on the beach, the little rental Sailfishes or Sunfishes, were driven into cars like spears--power lines down, almost every tree in the area is on the ground."

The Jamaican consulate in Miami said it had no immediate information on the extent of damages or casualties.

Jamaica was still out of contact with the rest of the world by telephone.

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