FISHERS on Jamaica's cays and banks were yesterday advised to immediately evacuate and head for the mainland as Tropical Storm Ernesto barrels towards the western Caribbean on a path that will take it near Jamaica's southern coast between tomorrow and Monday.
The advisory came from the National Meteorological Service as Ernesto, packing winds of 50 miles per hour, was forecast to strengthen — probably to hurricane strength — as it nears the island.
At 4:00 pm yesterday, the centre of the storm was located near Latitude 13.9 degrees north, Longitude 64.1 degrees west or about 1,380 kilometres (850 miles) east-southeast of Morant Point, Jamaica's easternmost end.
"Ernesto is moving quickly towards the west near 33 km/h (21 mph) and this general motion is expected to continue during the next day or two," the Met Service said in its 5:00 pm bulletin.
"Maximum sustained winds are near 85 km/h (50 mph), with higher gusts, and little change in intensity is expected today (yesterday). Some strengthening is forecast thereafter. Tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 165 km (105 miles) mainly to the north and east of the centre," the Met Service added.
The forecast is for Ernesto to pass south of Haiti on Sunday morning and continue south of Jamaica's mainland by Sunday afternoon. It is projected to be "in the vicinity of the Pedro Cays on Sunday evening and strengthen into a hurricane early Monday while located to the southwest of the island," the Met Service said in its midday bulletin.
According to the Met Service, Jamaica could begin experiencing increased rainfall tomorrow afternoon through Monday, along with periods of strong, gusty winds, mainly over southern parishes.
It said "most of the rainfall and thunderstorm activity associated with Tropical Storm Ernesto are east of the centre, showing that the system is facing wind conditions that are restricting development".
"This should continue for the next couple of days, however, Ernesto is expected to remain a tropical storm south of Hispaniola and Jamaica and later strengthen," it said.
Apart from the fishers, other small craft operators in Jamaica's coastal waters were advised to return to port and those in port told not to venture out.
Yesterday, Ernesto — which developed from Tropical Depression #5 on Thursday — dumped heavy rains across the eastern Caribbean — affecting Barbados, Dominica, St Lucia, St Vincent, Martinique, Guadeloupe, and the Grenadines — as it headed west toward Jamaica and Mexico.
Dominica closed its international airport for a second day yesterday, while St Lucia ordered businesses to close for half the day. A ferry that travels to Guadeloupe, Dominica, Martinique, and St Lucia also temporarily suspended its service.
No damage or flooding has been reported on the islands affected by the storm but gusts of up to 63 miles per hour (101 kilometres per hour) were reported in some areas.
Meanwhile, Jamaicans have expressed fear that rains from the storm could dampen Monday's celebration of Jamaica's 50th year of Independence.
A number of activities are scheduled to take place across the island, the most anticipated of which will be the Grand Gala to be held at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica's capital city.
Many persons with whom the Jamaica Observer spoke Thursday believed that the storm is a warning from God.
"Well, if it reaches, I believe it is a sign of a very purposeful God and is an indication that Jamaica and Jamaicans should reflect [on their past and past deeds]," said Jacqueline Chambers. "We started our celebrations and we did not include God," said Chambers.
Samantha Wright agreed. "We are a blessed country, but some of us take things for granted," said Wright who felt the threat from the tropical storm was a warning to Jamaicans.
But Alicia Anderson was optimistic that the storm will not affect Jamaica. "We have heard these sort of reports already, I don't believe a storm will come," she told the Observer.
Seymour Wright, for his take, said he was not worried. "We nuh fear nuh storm enuh, because remember seh what to be must be," he said.
Yesterday, the National Water Commission (NWC) urged Jamaicans to store water in the event that the storm disrupts its systems.
"While the NWC is taking all appropriate measures to protect its systems and provide continued service to our valued customers, water supply and wastewater systems are inherently vulnerable to hurricanes, storms and flood conditions," the NWC said.