KINGSTON, Jamaica - Waves two-stories high crashed on Jamaica's eastern shore Friday, flooding homes and washing away roads as Hurricane Ivan's ferocious winds and pounding rains began to lash the island and threatened a direct hit on its densely populated capital. The death toll elsewhere in the Caribbean rose to 33.
Jamaican Prime Minister P.J. Patterson declared a public emergency and pleaded with the half million people considered in danger - about one in five islanders - to get to shelters. Many residents, however, refused to leave, fearing their homes would be robbed if abandoned.
"I'm not saying I'm not afraid for my life but we've got to stay here and protect our things," said Lorna Brown, 49, pointing to a stove, television, cooking utensils and large bed crowded into a one-room concrete home on the beach at Montego Bay.
Cuba declared a hurricane watch across the entire island Friday after its leader, Fidel Castro, went on national television warning residents to brace themselves. "Whatever the hurricane does, we will all work together" to rebuild, he said.
In South Florida, long lines reappeared at gas stations and shoppers swarmed home building stores and supermarkets. Forecasters said Ivan could tear through the Keys as early as Monday though there was still a chance the storm would instead move out into the Gulf of Mexico.
Farther south, in areas already struck by Ivan, authorities discovered more bodies along Venezuela's flooded coast and in devastated Grenada.
"When dogs interfere with garbage bags and strew the contents all over the place - that's what Grenada looks like," Trinidadian leader Patrick Manning said after visiting the island.
In Jamaica, awed onlookers stood transfixed on the seaside Palisadoes Highway near Kingston's airport as 23-foot waves crashed to shore, thrusting rocks and dead tree branches more than 100 feet into the road.
James reports Jamaica could be hit even harder by the hurricane.
"I've lived here all my life and I've never seen anything like this," said businessman Chester Pinnock, huddled under an umbrella in the drenching rain, which started here Friday morning.
"This is going to be disastrous, we could have hundreds dead. Hurricane Gilbert was a puppy compared to this," he said. Gilbert killed dozens of Jamaicans and devastated the island when it struck as a Category 3 storm in 1988.
Ivan, a Category 4 hurricane - out of a top scale of 5 - packed winds of 145 mph and could strengthen before fully striking the 145-mile-long island Friday night, meteorologists said. They warned of "life-threatening" flash floods and mudslides.
"What we're experiencing now is only the beginning," Jamaica's prime minister said in an address to the nation. "Residents living near coastal areas must evacuate before it's too late. ... I cannot stress too strongly that Ivan is a dangerous hurricane."
But only about 1,200 people had moved into shelters around Kingston by Friday afternoon, said emergency management director Barbara Carby.
Only 3,800 people had fled low-lying areas of Montego Bay, a resort town of 35,000 where many tourists were stranded, disaster agency official Faye Headley said. She said 350 were in shelters Friday afternoon.
In town, the Barnett River overflowed its banks, putting some businesses on Bouge Street four feet under water and, farther inland, flooding roads and farmlands. Drenching rain washed away the main northern coastal road, the A1, a couple of miles outside Montego Bay.
The British Royal Navy frigate HMS Richmond, which rushed to Grenada's rescue Wednesday, was speeding to Jamaica along with a supply ship, Commander Mike MacCartain told the BBC.
Jamaicans can expect to feel the effects of the punishing hurricane through most of Saturday, said Lt. Dave Roberts, a Navy meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was projected to exit the island around Montego Bay, pass the Cayman Islands and cross over Cuba before taking aim at southern Florida.
At 5 p.m., Ivan was centered about 80 miles southeast of Kingston, Jamaica, or about 630 miles southeast of Key West. It was moving northwest at 13 mph.
East of Jamaica, in neighboring Haiti, the storm's fringes forced piles of sand and knee-high water into seaside neighborhoods of Les Cayes, a city of 300,000 on the southwest peninsula.
Crashing waves and rains destroyed at least two houses and crops in the Artibonite Valley, north of Port-au-Prince, the Civil Protection government agency reported, and floods damaged at least 10 homes in the northern city of Cap-Haitien.
Ivan began the fourth major hurricane of the Atlantic Season on Sunday, and damaged dozens of homes in Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent before making a direct hit on Grenada, which it left a wasteland of flattened houses, twisted metal and splintered wood. It damaged 90 percent of homes there, tossed sailboats to shore and set off looting among some of the 100,000 residents left without electricity, water and telephone service.
"Galvanized sheeting spread over the land, no trees have leaves, many houses are gone," said Manning, the Trinidadian leader. "To see a building with a roof is a very rare sight."
Manning said Grenada's priorities are establishing security to end looting; recapturing prisoners; getting food, potable water, tents and blankets; restoring communications and electricity; and providing materials to rebuild.
More than 100 Caribbean soldiers from five countries arrived Thursday to help restore order on the island of 100,000.
On Friday, Trinidadian troops armed with assault rifles patrolled the marina and shopping area around the Carenage and police Superintendent Edvin Martin reported only scattered looting. An officer of the elite Special Service Unit said several guns were stolen from their station after officers abandoned it in the storm. He spoke on condition of anonymity.
Troops from Barbados and Trinidad guarded Grenada's airport, where dozens of American medical students waited for chartered flights home.
"Nothing is going to be functioning here for a long time," said Olivier de Raet, 37, a medical student from Potomac, Md.
Grenada's Police Commissioner Fitzroy Bedeau said efforts to determine a death toll were hindered by blocked roads, landslides and lack of telephone service. He said at least 22 people had died in Grenada, including the drowned yachters, people trapped in collapsed homes and a few elderly people who apparently died of shock.
Ivan has also killed one five people in Venezuela, one in Tobago, one in Barbados, and four youngsters in the Dominican Republic.