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Apocalyptic: Hurricane Beryl leaves ‘complete devastation’ in its wake

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People walk through flooding from seawater after hurricane Beryl passes in the parish of Saint James, Barbados, near Bridgetown, Barbados on July 1, 2024. Hurricane Beryl ploughed toward the southeast Caribbean early Monday as officials warned residents to seek shelter ahead of powerful winds and swells expected from the Category 3 storm. – Picture: Chandan Khanna / AFP

By Olivia Rosane

“What we see here are the consequences of a rampaging climate change,” the prime minister of one impacted country said, as the storm now bears down on Jamaica.

Hurricane Beryl — the earliest Category 4 and Category 5 storm to ever form in the Atlantic Basin — killed at least seven people as it tore through the southeastern Caribbean nations of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada on Monday, leaving behind devastation that the leaders of both countries compared to “Armageddon”.

Scientists say that the record-breaking storm intensified so rapidly and so early in the season due to above-average ocean temperatures heated primarily by the burning of fossil fuels.

“What we see here are the consequences of a rampaging climate change,” Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves told Democracy Now! on Wednesday morning. “We are in the era of the Anthropocene, and the developed countries — the major emitters — are not taking this matter seriously.”

“Big Oil must be held to account for worsening extreme weather disasters.”

Beryl made landfall on Carriacou Island in Grenada at around 11am EDT on Monday as a Category 4 storm before strengthening to a Category 5 later in the day. With winds blowing as high as 150 miles per hour, it was the strongest hurricane to hit the Grenadines since at least 1851.

The storm flattened Carriacou in half an hour, Grenadian Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said in a press briefing late Monday.

“Having seen it myself, there is really nothing that could prepare you to see this level of destruction,” Mitchell told reporters. “It is almost Armageddon-like. Almost total damage or destruction of all buildings, whether they be public buildings, homes, or private facilities. Complete devastation and destruction of agriculture, complete and total destruction of the natural environment. There is literally no vegetation left anywhere on the island of Carriacou.”

The hurricane also pummelled the Grenadian island of Martinique. On the two islands, which are home to around 6,000 people, the storm damaged or destroyed 98 percent of structures, including Carriacou’s marinas, airport, and main hospital, The New York Times reported. It also wiped out electricity and communications on the two islands, damaged crops, downed trees and power lines, and flattened Carriacou’s mangroves.

In St Vincent and the Grenadines, the hardest-hit islands were Canouan, Mayreau, and Union Island, where 90 percent of homes were flattened or seriously damaged, according to The Guardian. The outlet said social media footage of the damage showed “apocalyptic scenes”.

Speaking on Democracy Now!, Gonsalves compared conditions in the south of the country to “Armageddon”.

“Union Island is flattened,” he said, adding that everyone on Union and Mayreau were homeless.

One woman who survived the storm described the experience to Vincentian journalist Demion McTair, saying, “Just imagine stoves flying in the air, house flying, lifting up, tearing apart, and just going in the wind. Just like that … Just imagine.”

Despite the devastation, the death toll has remained low for now, with three reported dead in Grenada, one in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and three in Venezuela, according to The New York Times.

However, the task of rebuilding from the storm will be “Herculean”, Gonsalves told Democracy Now!, adding that he estimated the damage was in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

“We are in a sense going up a down escalator,” he said. “Every time we make some progress, we get hit by these natural disasters and we have to start afresh.”

Yet, given the role that the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis plays in supercharging storms and hurricanes, these disasters expose the deep guilt of powerful corporations who have profited from the continued consumption of coal, oil, and gas.

“Seriously, at what point do we get crimes against humanity trials for the fossil fuel execs and economists, like Nobel winner William Nordhaus, who minimised climate impacts for decades?” climate advocate Julia Steinberger wrote on social media in response to the storm’s devastation.

Greenpeace International agreed.

“Big Oil must be held to account for worsening extreme weather disasters,” the group wrote on social media.

Both Gonsalves and Mitchell criticised wealthier nations for leaving Caribbean countries to bear the brunt of a crisis they did little to cause.

In Monday’s press briefing, Mitchell said he expected recovery to cost tens of billions of dollars and called for climate justice:

We are no longer prepared to accept that it’s OK for us to constantly suffer significant, clearly demonstrated loss and damage arising from climatic events and be expected to rebuild year after year while the countries that are responsible for creating this situation — and exacerbating this situation — sit idly by with platitudes and tokenism. Grenada’s economy, Grenada’s environment, both physically built and natural, has taken an enormous hit from this hurricane. It has put the people of Carriacou and Petit Martinique light years behind, and they are required to pull themselves by the boot strap, on their own. This is not right, it is not fair, and it not just.

Mitchell promised to establish a task force to address the issue involving other small island developing states and the international community.

Gonsalves, speaking from his residence late on Monday, said that developed countries who have contributed the most to the crisis were “getting a lot of talking, but you are not seeing a lot of action — as in making money available to small-island developing states and other vulnerable countries”.

He also referred to the United Nations climate negotiations, or COPs, as “largely a talkshop”.

He expressed hope that seeing such a strong hurricane form so early in the season “will alert them to our vulnerabilities, our weaknesses and encourage them to honour the commitments they have made on a range of issues, from the Paris accord to the current time”.

However, he also expressed concern that the climate crisis was not a larger point of discussion in the upcoming UK elections, or in other elections worldwide this year.

“The same thing is happening in other parts of the election in Western Europe and the United States as countries move to the right,” Gonsalves said. “It’s a terrible time for small island developing states and vulnerable countries.”

Meanwhile, Beryl’s potential path of destruction is not over, as it approaches Jamaica as a Category 4 hurricane with winds of up to 140 miles per hour, the National Weather Service (NWS) wrote at 2pm EDT Wednesday.

“We are very concerned about a wide variety of life-threatening impacts in Jamaica.”

“On the forecast track, the centre of Beryl will pass near or over Jamaica during the next several hours. After that, the centre is expected to pass near or over the Cayman Islands tonight or early Thursday and move over the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico Thursday night or early Friday,” NWS said.

While the agency predicted the storm would weaken somewhat over the next two days, it “is forecast to be at or near major hurricane intensity while it passes near Jamaica during the next several hours and the Cayman Islands tonight or early Thursday”.

“We are very concerned about a wide variety of life-threatening impacts in Jamaica,” AccuWeather’s chief meteorologist Jon Porter said, adding that Beryl was “the strongest and most dangerous hurricane threat that Jamaica has faced, probably, in decades”.

Oliver Mair, Jamaica’s consul general in Miami, told The Washington Post that the hurricane was “almost like a game-changer”.

“To have this size hurricane so early in the season, it’s frightening,” Mair said.

Olivia Rosane is a staff writer for Common Dreams