By John Myers, Jr. and Janet Silvera, Gleaner Reporters
JAMAICA ESCAPED the full force of Hurricane Charley yesterday as the extended winds brushed the southern coast of the island in the afternoon on a northwesterly turn towards the Cayman Islands.
The threat of the hurricane, however, shut down the industrial and commercial sectors as the nation remained on high alert for winds in excess of 120 kilometres per hour.
At 4:00 p.m. the centre of Hurricane Charlie was located about 135 kilometres southwest of Kingston. At 5:00 p.m. the National Meteorological Service upgraded the hurricane watch to a hurricane warning as Charley continued to gain strength and moved towards the west-northwest at 28 kilometres per hour.
The Met Office said this meant that Jamaica could be expected to be affected by dangerously high waters or a combination of dangerously high waters and high waves, accompanied by average winds of 64 knots or 118 kilometres per hour today.
Yesterday, Robert Pickersgill, Minister of Transport and Works, ordered the closure of the two main airports, the Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston and the Sangster International Airport (SIA) in Montego Bay, St. James The NMIA was closed at 11:00 a.m. and was scheduled to reopen last night while the SIA was closed at 1 p.m. This resulted in major disruptions in commercial flights in and out of the country as airlines were forced to cancel or reschedule flights.
The Port of Kingston and all other ports on the island were also shut down, resulting in several cruise and cargo ships diverted as the National Meteoro-logical Service warned that Hurricane Charley would move closer to the southern coastline before heading towards the Cayman Islands and western Cuba.
As a result of the port closure, over 3,000 cruise ship passengers on the Carnival Conquest were diverted from Montego Bay, causing millions of dollars in losses for in-bond and craft merchants, attraction operators, restaurants and transport companies in the city. The Triumph, another cruise ship which transports some 2,700 cruise passengers into Ocho Rios on Thursdays, was rerouted to another destination.
"From a revenue standpoint we have lost a substantial amount in revenue for one day as a result of both ships being diverted," complained Andre Dixon, director of Margaritaville Caribbean. The state-owned, Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) ceased operations at 2:00 p.m. in anticipation of the hurricane.
Most businesses remained closed throughout the day. However, it was a field day for hardware merchants, supermarket and dry goods store operators as scores of Jamaicans hurried to stack up on essential food and household supplies at the last minute.
But even as Met Service forecasts indicated that Charley had gained strength, Jamaicans breathed a sigh of relief as subsequent projections indicated that the country would not suffer from a direct hit as the hurricane system, rather than crossing the island from southeast to northwest, was moving along the southwestern coastline.
Meantime, yesterday the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard located and rescued three foreign nationals from a disabled 60-foot yacht 50 nautical miles south east of the Morant Cays. The rescued men, who were severely dehydrated and exhausted, were rushed to the Kingston Public Hospital where they were recovering from their ordeal.