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Hurricane Beryl reaches record winds of 165 mph as the powerful storm barrels toward Jamaica

Hurricane Beryl, the record-setting powerful storm that has killed at least seven people, weakened slightly Tuesday as it makes its way toward Jamaica, but it is still a major Category 4 hurricane with life-threatening winds and storm surge.

The storm, which was expected to hit Jamaica directly or pass near it Wednesday, had been a Category 5 with maximum sustained winds of 165 mph — making it the strongest July hurricane ever recorded, beating Emily in 2015, according to the National Hurricane Center.

By Tuesday night, it was a Category 4 storm with 150 mph winds, and it will still be a major or near-major hurricane when it passes by or over Jamaica, forecasters warned.

“Beryl is still a very powerful Category 4 hurricane,” National Hurricane Center Director Michael Brennan said in a video briefing Tuesday.

Jamaica will feel tropical storm-force winds early Wednesday and then hurricane conditions, the National Hurricane Center said in a bulletin. The storm’s center was around 300 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, at 11 p.m. ET Tuesday, and it was moving west south of Haiti.

“Everybody’s worried. Everybody that I’ve spoke with thus far is worried — about how it’s going to affect their livelihood, how they’re going to get money,” Lacie McKenzie, 21, who owns a bar in Kingston, told NBC News.

Already, the storm has been blamed for seven deaths — three people were killed in Grenada, three died in Venezuela and one person was killed in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro said four people remain missing.

The hurricane made landfall on Carriacou Island in Grenada in the Windward Islands at 11:10 a.m. Monday as it approached the Caribbean. Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said that there are many downed power lines and roads that are not passable.

“The situation is grim,” Mitchell said. “There is no port. There’s almost complete destruction of homes and buildings on the island.”

Jamaica has issued a hurricane warning, and Prime Minister Andrew Holness urged people to seek higher, safer ground, to make preparations and not to wait.

“We have an impending disaster, and we have to treat it with the seriousness that it requires,” Holness said. “We will have some adverse weather impacts, whether it is a direct hit or a glancing blow … and therefore everyone needs to be now in a mental state of readiness.”

McKenzie, the bar owner in Kingston, said she and others she knows do not plan to evacuate, even though they are in a low-lying area.

“They’re not going to leave. None of us are. We’re going to stand and we’re going to ride it out,” she said.

After it passes near or over Jamaica on Wednesday, the hurricane is forecast to approach the Cayman Islands on Thursday before it reached the Yucatán Peninsula at night.

The storm surge in Jamaica could reach 5 to 8 feet above normal tide levels, with up to 12 inches of rain possible there and on the southwestern Haitian peninsula through Wednesday. In the Cayman Islands, where there is also a hurricane warning, a storm surge could raise water levels 2 to 4 feet above the norm.

The south coast of Haiti was under a hurricane watch and a tropical storm warning, and the southern coast of the Dominican Republic was also under a tropical storm warning.

“We are most concerned about Jamaica, where we expect the core of a major hurricane to pass near or over the island during the day tomorrow,” Brennan, the National Hurricane Center director, said Tuesday.

The effects of Beryl could even reach the continental U.S., with minor coastal flooding in southeast Texas or southwest Louisiana, according to the National Weather Service field office in Lake Charles, Louisiana. More impacts are possible if the hurricane moves farther north than expected.

In Grenada, officials were working on restoring communication wrecked by the storm.

“We have lost almost 95% of the roof and housing stock in Petite Martinique and in Carriacou,” Arthur Pierre, deputy coordinator for Grenada’s emergency management agency, NaDMA, said in a video briefing Tuesday.

Fishing vessels lie damaged after Hurricane Beryl passed through the Bridgetown Fisheries in Barbados
Fishing vessels lie damaged after Hurricane Beryl passed through the Bridgetown Fisheries in Barbados on Monday. Ricardo Mazalan / AP

St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said the storm has left “immense destruction.”

“Union Island has been devastated,” he said. “The reports that I have received indicated that 90% of the houses have been severely damaged or destroyed.”

Beryl is the first hurricane classed as Category 4 or higher to appear in June and the earliest Category 4 storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. It’s also the strongest hurricane to pass through the Windward Islands, which include Grenada, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Lucia and Martinique.

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