Hurricane Emily now Category 4
Season's second major storm of season

Friday, July 15, 2005; Posted: 2:29 a.m. EDT (06:29 GMT)

Hurricane Emily's eye is clearly visible in this satellite image, taken as the storm churned across the Caribbean at 3:45 p.m. Thursday.WATCH Browse/Search

Hurricane Emily was upgraded early Friday to a Category 4 hurricane as it churned across the Caribbean Sea toward the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and forecasters warned some additional strengthening is possible before it makes landfall.

The storm was already being blamed for one death in Grenada, which took a nearly direct hit from the hurricane early Thursday.

Emily became the second major hurricane of the 2005 Atlantic season, reaching Category 4 status early Friday after its maximum sustained winds reached 131 mph. A Category 4 hurricane is capable of causing extensive structural damage and inundating coastal areas with up to 18 feet of storm surge.

The storm's current location is away from land, but a hurricane watch has been issued for Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, meaning hurricane conditions, including winds of more than 73 mph, are expected within 36 hours.

At 2 a.m. ET, the storm's center was about 350 miles south-southeast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic and about 635 miles east-southeast of Kingston, Jamaica. It was moving west-northwest at near 20 mph.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued for parts of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the northern coast of Venezuela, as well as the islands of Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba, which means tropical storm conditions -- including winds between 39 mph and 73 mph -- are expected to hit those areas within 24 hours.

Forecasters said 3 to 6 inches of rain could fall on Hispaniola, which includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti, with isolated amounts up to 8 inches that could produce flash floods and mudslides. In Bonaire, Curacao and Aruba, 2 to 4 inches of rain were forecast.

Emily's five-day forecast path from the National Hurricane Center predicts the eye will mostly likely pass just south of Jamaica Saturday and make landfall on Mexico's Yucatan peninsula late Sunday or early Monday. After crossing the Yucatan, the forecast shows the storm entering the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday.

At that point, the Mexican mainland and the far southern coast of Texas are shown as possible targets for Emily. However, projections that far ahead can be unreliable because of the erratic nature of hurricane movement.

In Grenada, heavy rain caused flooding and mudslides and left one person dead, according to Odette Campbell of the island's National Disaster Office.

Campbell said one bridge had collapsed and there were widespread reports of damage to homes and buildings -- some of which were still being repaired after Hurricane Ivan slammed through the region last summer.

In Trinidad, Emily was still a tropical storm when it came onshore, leaving flooding in some areas.

A spokeswoman for the Trinidad and Tobago National Emergency Management Agency said emergency response teams are rescuing people trapped by high water and clearing roadways of debris.

Emily is the latest storm in what has so far been an active 2005 Atlantic hurricane season, with five tropical systems developing in the first six weeks.

All five systems have reached at least tropical storm strength, and Dennis -- which packed 150 mph winds at one point -- was the earliest Category 4 hurricane ever recorded in the Caribbean basin. The storm caused extensive damage in Cuba and the northern U.S. Gulf Coast, killing more than three dozen people.

For Emily to reach Category 5 status, its maximum sustained winds would have to exceed 155 mph. A Category 5 hurricane is capable of producing catastrophic damage and flooding.