Preparations to safeguard life and property were in full swing Friday as the Cayman Islands braced for a close passing of a second major hurricane in less than one year.
Although Hurricane Emily remained on a path to come very near to Grand Cayman, the storm showed signs of weakening Friday morning, downgrading from a Category 4 to a Category 3.
Emily, however, was still predicted to pass 36 miles south of Grand Cayman a Category 3 hurricane approximately 1 am Sunday morning, Allan Ebanks of Cayman’s Meteorological Services said.
‘We’re expecting peak sustained winds of 79 mph with gusts in the upper 80’s on Grand Cayman,’ he said.
Those conditions would be equivalent to a Category 1 hurricane.
Mr. Ebanks said tropical storm force winds were expected to begin on Grand Cayman between 4pm and 5pm Saturday.
‘They should subside between 9am and noon Sunday,’ he said.
Mr. Ebanks also said Emily could bring five to nine inches of rain.
Chief Meteorologist Fred Sambula noted that Emily was a fast moving storm.
‘Based on all scenarios, Emily will not be another Ivan,’ he said. ”The barometric pressure of Emily is not as low as Ivan, and, if it continues at its present speed of 20 mph, the duration of its stay in our area will be substantially reduced compared to Ivan.’
Steering currents for Emily were ‘strong and steady’, Mr. Ebanks said, which means there was little chance for the storm to drastically change its west-northwest course heading in the general direction of Grand Cayman.
A Hurricane Watch went into effect for the Cayman Islands 10pm Thursday and the National Hurricane Committee was set to declare a Hurricane Warning as of 4pm Friday.
This is the second brush with a major hurricane the Cayman Islands have had in less than two weeks; last Friday Hurricane Dennis gave the country a close call, travelling 82 miles north of Cayman Brac,
While many storm-wary residents diligently prepared for Dennis, the public seemed to be taking Hurricane Emily much more seriously.
Grocery stores, gas stations and hardware stores all started to get busy from Thursday and were even more so on Friday.
Queues at A.L. Thompson were reported to be two hours long Friday afternoon.
All major supermarkets announced they would maintain regular hours on Friday. On Saturday, they said they would open at 5 am and then close at noon.
Supermarkets would then stay closed until Monday, when they planned to resume regular store hours.
Cayman Airways added extra flights Friday and Saturday to help evacuate people who wanted to leave the island.
Guests at the Marriott Beach Resort Hotel on West Bay Road were waiting to hear whether they were to be evacuated off the island either Friday night or Saturday morning.
‘The next eight hours are going to be crucial,’ said duty manager Shawn Gooneratne Friday morning.
‘We are having a lot of early departures today and we are waiting on the Department of Tourism for advice on whether our guests are to be evacuated.
‘The guests will get first preference if an evacuation is ordered.
‘We have a notice board up keeping them informed, but we don’t want them to get into a panic. We are trying to keep things calm,’ added Mr. Gooneratne.
Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts said Cayman’s National Hurricane Committees were in an advance state of readiness Friday morning.
‘Contingency arrangements have been made for regional police officers to augment our local force should it become necessary,’ he said.
Mr. Tibbetts also said Britain had stockpiled supplies in the region to be flown in should conditions warrant that action.
‘In addition, the International Red Cross … has two planes loaded with relief supplies on standby to come to our assistance, should we need their help.’