KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Hurricane Beryl tore through Jamaica on Wednesday, bringing heavy winds and rain after the powerful Category 4 storm killed at least seven people and caused significant damage across the southeastern Caribbean earlier in the day.

According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, Beryl’s eyewall “hit the southern coast of Jamaica.”

Windy rain battered the island for hours as residents heeded authorities’ pleas to take shelter until the storm passed. Power was cut in much of the capital.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness said on Wednesday afternoon that nearly 500 people were being housed in shelters.

By evening he said Jamaica had not yet experienced “the worst that can happen.”

“We can do what we can do, what is humanly possible, and the rest we leave in the hands of God,” Holness said.

According to the government information service, several roads in the country’s interior settlements were blocked by fallen trees and electricity poles, while some communities in the north were without electricity.

Kingston resident Pauline Lynch said she had stockpiled food and water in preparation for the storm’s arrival. Lynch said, “I have no control over what’s coming, so I just have to pray that all the people in Jamaica are safe and that we don’t have any deaths or losses.”

By midday the wind had already started to pick up in the capital, turning the sea into swirling whitecaps as Beryl turned her gaze to the island’s south coast.

“We are very concerned about a wide range of life-threatening impacts in Jamaica,” including storm surges, high winds and flash flooding, said Jon Porter, chief meteorologist at AccuWeather.

Porter called Beryl “the strongest and most dangerous hurricane threat Jamaica has likely faced in decades.”

A hurricane warning was in effect for Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, and the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula from Puerto Costa Maya to Cancun. Beryl is expected to weaken slightly over the next day or two but will still be at or near major hurricane strength when it passes the Cayman Islands on Thursday and reaches Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula late Thursday or Friday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

Jamaica was in a state of emergency after being declared a disaster area hours before Beryl hit. Holness said the disaster area declaration would remain in effect for the next seven days.

An evacuation order was issued for communities across Jamaica that are prone to flooding and landslides. Holness urged Jamaicans to move away from low-lying areas.

Meanwhile, Mexico’s Caribbean coast was preparing for Beryl.

The head of Mexico’s civil protection agency said Beryl is expected to deliver a rare double blow to Mexico. Laura Velázquez said the hurricane is expected to make landfall along a relatively uninhabited stretch of Caribbean coast between Tulum and the inland town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. Because the coast there is largely made up of lagoons and mangrove forests, there are few resorts or hotels in the area south of Tulum.

On Wednesday, Mexican government officials removed sea turtle eggs from the beaches of Cancun to protect them from storm surges.

The hurricane is expected to weaken to a tropical storm as it crosses the Yucatan Peninsula and reemerge with gale force in the Gulf of Mexico over the weekend. Velazquez said Beryl is then expected to hit Mexican territory a second time in the Gulf Coast states of Veracruz or Tamaulipas, near the Texas border.

Beryl became the first storm to develop into a Category 5 hurricane in the Atlantic on Monday night, peaking at 165 mph (270 km/h) on Tuesday before weakening to a still-destructive Category 4. On Wednesday, the storm was centered about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Kingston. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) and was moving west-northwest at 20 mph (31 km/h). Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from the center.

In Miami, Michael Brennan, director of the hurricane center, said during an online briefing that people on the island should plan to stay sheltered in place all day Wednesday as conditions only begin to improve overnight.

Jamaica’s southern coast, where Kingston is located, is expected to bear the brunt of Beryl, with coastal water levels expected to rise 1.8 to 2.7 metres (6 to 9 feet) above normal tide levels in some areas.

Heavy rainfall of 10 to 20 centimetres (4 to 8 inches), including 30 centimetres (12 inches) in some places, threatened flash floods and mudslides on the mountainous island, he said.

As Beryl tore through the Caribbean Sea, rescue crews spread out across southeastern islands to assess the extent of the damage the hurricane had caused on Carriacou, an island in Grenada.

Michelle Forbes, director of the National Emergency Management Organization for St. Vincent and the Grenadines, said about 95% of homes in Mayreau and Union Island were damaged by Hurricane Beryl.

Three people were killed in Grenada and Carriacou and another in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, officials said. Three other deaths were reported in northern Venezuela, where five people are missing, officials said. About 25,000 people in that area were also affected by heavy rains from Beryl.

According to Environment Minister Kerryne James, one person died in Grenada after a tree fell on a house.

Grenada Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell said Tuesday that there is no power, roads are impassable and the possible rise in the death toll “remains a grim reality.”

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and the Grenadines has pledged to rebuild the archipelago.

The last major hurricane to hit the southeastern Caribbean was Hurricane Ivan 20 years ago, which killed dozens of people in Grenada.

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Associated Press journalists Mark Stevenson in Mexico City, Coral Murphy Marcos in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Lucanus Ollivierre in Kingstown, St. Vincent and the Grenadines contributed to this report.

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