Dangerous Hurricane Dennis spared the Cayman Islands when it took a turn to the northwest Thursday.
The storm had sustained winds of more than 130 mph – making it a Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale – when it passed 82 miles northeast of Cayman Brac approximately 4am Friday.
National Hurricane Committee chairman Donovan Ebanks indicated the Cayman Islands was fortunate to miss Dennis’ fury.
‘This was a close call and we are thankful to have been spared,’ he said. ‘This is particularly so when we consider the fact that Dennis intensified so rapidly and continues to do so even as it moves away.’
Dennis became the earliest Category 4 hurricane on record in the Caribbean Sea, and also the strongest hurricane in the Atlantic Basin so early in the year, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida.
The storm was already blamed for 20 deaths in the Caribbean – 10 in Haiti and 10 in Cuba – as it took aim on the United States Gulf Coast.
Landfall in the US was predicted for the same area of the Florida Panhandle that was hit by Hurricane Ivan after it ravaged Grand Cayman last September.
Dennis strengthened from a tropical storm to a Category 3 hurricane in less than 24 hours in the warm waters of the western Caribbean Sea between Wednesday afternoon and Thursday.
As of Thursday morning, Dennis was on a path to come very close to the Sister Islands, but started veering away just before it reached Jamaica.
Cayman’s head of Meteorological Services Fred Sambula said the storm’s steering currents changed, causing the turn.
‘A ridge to the north eroded in the western section of the path, and the storm found an area of slackness, and it curved to the northwest,’ he said.
As a result, Hurricane Dennis brought only 1.63 inches of rain to Grand Cayman in the 36 hours between 7pm Thursday and 7am Saturday, with gusts of only 20 mph, Cayman Meteorological Services said.
The hurricane warning in effect for Grand Cayman was removed at 7am Friday.
Some businesses on Grand Cayman tried to get back to normal on Friday after the danger had passed.
Kirk Supermarket, Foster’s Food Fair and Hurley’s Supermarket, which had all said they would remain closed until Saturday, reopened on Friday instead.
The Governor’s office was said to be working as normal on Friday after Governor Bruce Dinwiddy spend the night at his home.
On Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, the hurricane warning was changed to a tropical storm warning at 7am Friday and discontinue all together at 10am.
The Sister Islands received about two and a half inches of rain and experienced wind gusts of up to 35mph as result of Dennis.
Huge waves crashed along the south shore of Cayman Brac.
Still, the Sister Islands emerged unscathed by the brush with Dennis.
No damage – ‘not even a tree down’ – was the report from District Commissioner Kenny Ryan on Cayman Brac.
Hurricane shelters were opened and more than 200 people spent the night at the Aston Rutty Centre and a further 67 took shelter in West End Primary, Mr. Ryan said.
‘This was looking really bad for us a day or a day and a half ago, but once again, divine intervention changed the course of (Dennis) and we were very blessed to have gotten through what could have been a disaster,’ Mr. Ryan said.
‘I would like to thank the public for co-operating fully and making this as less burdensome as it could have been,’ he said.
Cayman Brac emergency services reported no problems overnight from Thursday to Friday.
‘Everything is perfect,’ said Sergeant Gary Connolly of the Cayman Brac police force.
The airport on the Brac opened again Friday morning and flights were landing normally, although the early morning flights operated by Cayman Express from Grand Cayman did not depart.
Little Cayman experienced a strong lightening storm Thursday evening, causing a power outage for a short time.
But District Officer Larry Foster described it as miracle that the Island did not suffer any other bad effects or damage.
‘There was a bit of wind for a little while and then we experienced a terrific electrical storm that caused a short power outage,’ he said. ‘There was also heavy rains for a short time, but after that we had practically nothing.’
Mr. Foster remained in Little Cayman’s only hurricane shelter, the Public Works Department building, until the all clear was given at 10am Friday.
He was there with 42 people who had also spent the night there.
‘The power went out somewhere around 7 or 8pm and we put on an emergency generator here in the shelter. That drew some people here. However, the power was restored in about 30 to 45 minutes,’ he said.
Mr. Foster commented that Little Cayman was blessed that it did not suffer any damage that he knew of, and had no really high winds.
‘I think it’s a miracle,’ he said. ‘If it had hit us seriously, then things would have been 1,000-fold worse. We have to be very thankful for that.’
Some tourists left Little Cayman Wednesday night before the storm, but quite a few decided to stay on and weather the storm.
Gladys Howard of Pirate’s Point Resort commented, ‘It was really nothing. All of my guests stayed, six of them, and we enjoyed dinner in the clubhouse during the storm.’
Cayman Airways reported that flights to Kingston, Jamaica were restored after 10am Friday.
Two extra flights to Kingston were added to make up for the cancellations Thursday.
However, flights to Havana on Friday were cancelled in advance of Hurricane Dennis’ landfall on Cuba Friday afternoon.