Packing ferocious winds, Hurricane Ivan (search) made a direct hit on Grenada Tuesday, blasting apart scores of homes and forcing hundreds of evacuations before growing even stronger as it moved in Jamaica's direction.
The storm, coming just days after Hurricane Frances (search), also damaged homes in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent.
Howling winds raged through the hilly streets of St. George's, the capital, thrashing concrete homes into piles of rubble and uprooting trees and utility poles, knocking out telephone service and electricity. Transmission was halted from the Grenada Broadcast Network, whose building suffered major damage.
Trinidadian Prime Minister Patrick Manning said that Grenada Prime Minister Keith Mitchell (search) told him by telephone that his home had been flattened, and to ask for aid for the country. Manning said Trinidad would send Eastern Caribbean $10 million in food and other aid.
Several hundred people had been evacuated from low-lying areas of St. George's. ChevronTexaco (search) said it evacuated nonessential staff from a natural gas well off Venezuela's Atlantic coast.
There were no reports of injuries in Grenada, but emergency officials could not be reached. Their office building, the 19th century Great House at Mount Wheldale in the capital, sustained roof damage and its verandah completely collapsed.
"Grenada felt the full brunt of this storm," said Chris Hennon, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center (search) in Miami.
More than 1,000 people rushed to shelters. Grenada, site of a 1983 U.S. invasion following a left-wing coup, has about 100,000 residents who live on several islands.
Ivan strengthened late Tuesday to a Category 4 — the second most powerful rating — as it appeared set to bear down on Jamaica by Thursday.
Ivan's sustained winds were clocked at 120 mph Tuesday as raced through the Windward Islands but gained strength to 135 mph with higher gusts Tuesday night.
At 8 p.m. EDT, the hurricane's center was about 65 miles west of Grenada and it was moving west near 18 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles from the center and tropical storm-force winds another 160 miles. The storm riled up battering waves and the Hurricane Center warned it could cause storm flooding of 3-5 feet above normal tides with 5-7 inches of rain that could cause flash floods and mudslides.
Ivan is expected to get even stronger in the next 24 hours, as it approaches Jamaica, the Hurricane Center said.
Earlier Tuesday, Ivan damaged at least 176 homes in Barbados, which was buffeted by gusts up to 90 mph, officials said. The Atlantis Hotel and Ocean Spray Hotel, just outside Bridgetown, the capital, lost part of their roofs.
"We are very lucky," said Chester Layne, Barbados' chief meteorological officer. "Had we been impacted by the main core of Ivan ... it could have been catastrophic."
In neighboring St. Vincent and the Grenadines, about 600 people sought shelter and at least 45 houses were damaged, officials said. A half dozen houses in St. Lucia lost roofs. Two people there fell while helping neighbors repair roofs and were hospitalized, officials said.
In Tobago nearly 600 people were in shelters and two high schools lost roofs.
Airports, schools, government offices and most private businesses were closed on affected islands.
A hurricane warning remained in effect for Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A hurricane watch was posted for the Dutch Caribbean islands of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao as for the Guajira peninsula of Colombia near the Venezuelan border. Tobago, Martinique, St. Lucia and Barbados all were under tropical storm warning.
In Barbados, an island of 280,000 seldom hit by hurricanes, winds whipped away half the roof of the temporary structure housing the retired British Airways Concorde jet donated to Barbados in November, authorities said. The plane was not damaged, they said.
"It was scary," Barbadian Elaine Hope said as she cooked lunch for five grandchildren in a home darkened by hurricane shutters. Hope said her house in east-coast St. Joseph suffered no damage, but the winds tore down her neighbor's fence.
Ivan became the fourth major hurricane of the season on Sunday, coming hard on the heels of Hurricane Frances.