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Jamaica’s Premier Reports Island Devastated by Hurricane With AM-Hurricane Gilbert, Bjt

September 15, 1988 GMT

KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) _ Prime Minister Edward Seaga said Wednesday that Hurricane Gilbert caused $8 billion damage here, with half this Caribbean island nation’s homes badly damaged and one out of every five dwellings destroyed.

He said eastern Jamaica, where Gilbert first came ashore, was hardest hit and looks ″like Hiroshima after the atom bomb.″

The state-operated Jamaican Broadcasting Corp., operating by generator, reported that at least 19 people were killed in Jamaica by the storm’s fury.

The storm also killed five people in the Dominican Republic on its sweep westward through the Caribbean before slamming into Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula Wednesday morning with 160 mph winds.

The Jamaican Embassy in Washington said 500,000 people were homeless. Jamaica has a population of 2.3 million.

The government estimates about 150,000 people are in distress shelters set up around the island in sports stadiums, churches, government buildings and movie theaters.

Seaga told reporters after a five-hour inspection flight over the entire island that the storm ″completely wiped out 20 percent of households.″

″We saw whole villages where not a single building was left standing,″ the prime minister said. ″It looked like Hiroshima after the atom bomb.″

Two days after the hurricane’s passing, Jamaica remained without electricity. Most regions still had no water.

A 7 p.m. curfew was still in effect in Kingston to prevent looting.

Seaga said damage was widespread along the southern coast west of Kingston, although not as devastating as on the eastern end.

The north coast, where Jamaica’s vital tourist industry is based, escaped the worst part of the storm and only two of the region’s luxury hotels appeared to have suffered noticable damage.

″By and large, the north coast is in pretty good shape,″ Seaga said. ″It should be possible to restore electricity there in a day or two.″

Seaga said he would hold an emergency Cabinet meeting Thursday to re- evaluate government reconstruction priorities and projected costs, as well as Jamaica’s requirements in international aid.

He estimated 100,000 of the island’s 500,000 homes were destroyed and said Jamaica would need $8 billion to restore the country in Gilbert’s wake.

″Now, our first priority is to provide shelter and sustenance,″ the prime minister said after touring the island. ″It’s obvious we’ll have to spend much more money than we thouyght initially we’d have to.″

The United States has sent in Navy cargo planes bringing plastic roof covering and collapsible water storage tanks. Offers of aid have come from Canada, Britain, France, West Germany and Israel, Seaga said.

The prime minister said he would issue an appeal Thursday for all businesess to reopen.

Government officials said Kingston’s Norman Manley Airport, severely damaged by Gilbert, would reopen to Air Jamaica flights Thursday or Friday.

The embassy in Washington said airports were open for emergency traffic only and all communications were ″extremely limited.″

It said no reports of American victims had surfaced.

Power outages forced some hospitals throughout Jamaica to conduct surgery by flashlight and most medical facilities were either flooded or had their roofs torn off by Gilbert’s winds Monday.

The tiny Cayman Islands, meanwhile, began returning to normal after surviving the storm’s fury with no reported deaths, few injuries and much less damage than feared. The islands’ 23,000 people ″got on their knees and said ‘Thank you,’ ″ said local journalist Carol Winker.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, officials reported heavy crop damage and flooding, but nothing of disaster proportions.

In Kingston, Jamaica’s capital city with 750,000 people, trees, zinc roofs, telephone poles and billboards littered the streets. Gilbert dumped up to 10 inches of rain in Jamaica and elsewhere along its route.

At the National Chest Hospital officials had to contend not only with storm damage but with looters who stole mattresses and other supplies.

Seaga said in a statement late Tuesday that he had no doubt ″that this is going to be the worst disaster that we have experienced in our modern history.″

Gilbert strengthened from a tropical storm into a hurricane Saturday night 160 miles south of Puerto Rico and churned up squalls from Cuba to the Bahamas, more than 1,000 miles apart.

After hitting Jamaica, it moved back out to sea and the eye of the storm, where the winds are strongest, passed 20 miles south of the Cayman Islands.

In the Dominican Republic, officials reported widespread crop damage and the country’s main electricity relay station remained out of service Wednesday, leaving half the capital of Santo Domingo without power.

Heavy crop damage also was reported in the islands of St. Lucia, Guadeloupe and St. Vincent. St. Lucian officials estimated $740,000 loss of income from bananas but said production levels would probably return to normal in a matter of weeks.