November 13, 1999

Hurricane Lenny Batters St. Croix

At Least Four People Dead in Northeast Caribbean


.c The Associated Press

THE VALLEY, Anguilla (Nov. 18, 99) - Hurricane Lenny loomed off a string of Dutch and British Caribbean islands today after slamming its 150 mph winds against St. Croix, where it flung boats onto the beach, flooded roads and homes and tore away a pier.

The late-season storm has killed at least four people from Colombia to Dutch St. Maarten in the northeast Caribbean. In Puerto Rico, the storm battered a Russian freighter carrying cement, forcing it to run aground near San Juan's 17th-century El Morro fortress.

On Tuesday, two fishermen drowned off Colombia's Caribbean peninsula, and rains destroyed half of a coastal village, leaving 540 people homeless.

One man died in the Puerto Rican capital, San Juan, after he fell off a ladder as he tried to board up windows. A man in St. Maarten died Wednesday when the garden wall of his hillside home collapsed on him.

Feeding off the warm Caribbean waters, Lenny's winds strengthened to 150 mph Wednesday, just 5 mph short of being a Category 5 hurricane, the strongest hurricane rating. Category 5 hurricanes can cause catastrophic damage.

By this morning, Lenny's winds had weakened to 135 mph. At 10 a.m. EST, the eye of the storm was stalled 35 miles west-southwest of St. Maarten, but was expected to move slowly east-northeastward on a trajectory that would take it over St. Maarten, Saba and Anguilla, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

The hurricane was unlikely to strike the mainland United States, said meteorologist Stacy Stewart at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. He cautioned, however, that Lenny still could bring heavy surf capable of eroding beaches in Florida.

''The influence of this storm is going to be felt considerable distances away,'' he said.

In St. Croix, an unidentified tourist who ventured out of a hotel to see the rising surf was carried away by waves and had to cling to a rock for more than an hour before local divers rescued him, said Gov. Charles Turnbull of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

St. Maarten Public Works Commissioner Roy Marlin worried that the Great Salt Pond, which serves as a rain catchbasin, might overflow and flood the capital, Philipsburg as winds lashed the Dutch territory.

Even before the hurricane arrived, storm surges that whipped up 12-foot waves stripped sand from Anguilla's famous beaches. The beaches, which attract the tourists who provide the British island's biggest source of revenue, already had been damaged by Hurricane Jose last month.

High waves from Lenny pounded islands as far east as Dominica. In St. Lucia, some houses were washed away and a gasoline station was set ablaze when wave damage caused a short-circuit that ignited kerosene.

Hurricane Lenny has a seemingly backward trajectory from west to east that surprised forecasters.

In San Juan, a few motorists speeded down highways usually choked with traffic and tooted their horns with delight that the storm, which zigzagged on a course that confounded meteorologists, had missed them. But nearly 100,000 people remained without water or electricity Wednesday night.

Anguilla was drenched by 4 to 6 inches of rain in four hours Wednesday afternoon, and its beaches were eroded by sea swells of up to 12 feet throughout the day.

The storm's first winds cut power and telephone service to many homes in St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The hurricane ripped up trees and unleashed a steady rain that flooded large areas.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency sent medical teams to the Virgin Islands ahead of the storm. The agency's director, James Lee Witt, told reporters that damage assessors would fly in today.

He said that while the hurricane damaged roofs, including that of the national armory, he did not expect widespread damage because FEMA had helped the government institute new hurricane building codes after Hurricane Marilyn devastated the islands in 1995.

The territory has a $1 billion debt and still owes $8 million for federal disaster loans from Hurricane Marilyn and Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Waves smashed over the 8-foot sea wall at Frederiksted, the second-largest town on the island, tearing away the wooden pier that was the fish market and a small part of the concrete pier where cruise ships dock.

In Christiansted, St. Croix's main town, the boardwalk was submerged, and winds tore part of the roof off the newly renovated King Christian Hotel.

The storm beached and sunk boats from Aruba, off Venezuela's coast in South America, to Grenada and St. Kitts.

On St. Kitts' concrete pier, a half dozen people suffered fractures and other injuries when they were hit by waves. Storm surges in Grenada swept away four houses, washed away asphalt roads, damaged runway lights at the airport and flooded roads and the business district.

AP-NY-11-18-99 1207EST


Lenny Strengthens, Nears St. Croix

Category-4 Storm Packing 140 Mph Winds


.c The Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Nov. 17, 99) - Beleaguered residents of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands scrambled today as Hurricane Lenny, a late-season surprise, gathered strength over the Caribbean and headed for the U.S. territories.

Lenny's sustained winds strengthened to 140 mph today, a Category 4 hurricane capable of extreme damage. At noon EST, its center was located about 35 miles south of St. Croix and was headed northeast at 12 mph on a path that could make a direct hit on the Virgin Islands.

''This is a very serious storm,'' U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Charles Turnbull said in a radio broadcast. ''The winds are becoming severe.''

In Puerto Rico, Gov. Pedro Rossello said today that 4,725 people had sought refuge in 191 shelters set up by the government. About 100,000 people were without water, and 90,000 were without electricity. One man died when he fell while trying to board up his windows.

In St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, callers to radio stations reported flooding in many areas and a few beached boats in the town of Frederiksted, and some roofs torn from homes. About 130 people took shelter in a high school, officials said.

On Tuesday, two fishermen drowned off Colombia's coast, and 540 people were left homeless after heavy wind and rain destroyed half the buildings in a coastal Colombian town, police said. It also smashed up some boats on Aruba, an island off the Venezuelan coast.

Lenny passed south of heavily populated and vulnerable Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, staying on its unusual west-to-east course. It then veered northeast, sparking a last-minute rush at grocery stores and gas stations throughout the islands in its path.

Officials in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands warned that the storm could dump up to 15 inches of rain. The National Weather Service warned of isolated tornadoes.

At a Home Depot near San Juan, nervous shoppers Tuesday night consulted a large wooden map where employees posted stickers tracking Lenny's relentless advance.

''We're taking no chances,'' said Gadiel Rivera, a 30-year-old accountant buying plywood to board up the windows of his home. ''Everyone remembers Georges, who gave Puerto Rico a real beating.''

Hurricane Georges, which hit in September 1998, steamrolled the island and killed more than 500 people throughout the Caribbean.

The combination of the late date and easterly path left even experienced observers agape. ''It's unheard of,'' said veteran meteorologist John Toohey on San Juan's WOSO-AM radio. ''This is a once-in-a-lifetime event.''

As winds whipped the outlying island of Vieques, Manuel Rodriguez Orellana, a spokesman for protesters camping out on a U.S. Navy bombing range there, said the demonstrators were safe. Some of the protesters, who are opposed to live-fire training on the island, rode out the storm inside an abandoned army tank used for target practice by the military.

Hurricane warnings remained in effect for Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, Anguilla, St. Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat and Antigua and Barbuda.

Farther east, the storm hurt the endeavors of a Kentucky lawyer attempting to become the first American and the first woman to row solo across the Atlantic. Tori Murden has rowed more than 2,500 miles since she left the Canary Islands in mid-September and is within 400 miles of her destination, the French islands of Guadeloupe. But waves stirred up by the storm have been pushing her back.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Turnbull declared a state of emergency and a curfew after 9 p.m. to prevent looting, and the U.S. National Guard was placed on alert. Tourists crowded at airline ticket counters in an increasingly vain effort to leave. The St. Croix airport closed, and the St. Thomas airport was scheduled to close.

In the nearby British Virgin Islands, schools, government offices and airports closed Tuesday afternoon. Only nurses, doctors, police and essential workers remained.

Cruise ships docked in San Juan and in St. Thomas headed out to sea to escape the storm, and airlines canceled flights to and from both places.

AP-NY-11-17-99 1230EST


Hurricane Lenny Threatens Caribbean


.c The Associated Press

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (Nov. 16, 99) - Benjamin Pena watched as his children scooped out buckets of the filthy water flooding the living room of his ramshackle home and uttered a prayer that Hurricane Lenny's center would pass him by.

Pena, a 55-year-old retired police lieutenant, pointed out homes already soiled by a week of rain, even as the first dark rain bands from Lenny loomed.

''It floods here every time it rains,'' the Santo Domingo resident said. ''I'm hoping it doesn't come.''

Lenny was about 255 miles south-southwest of Santo Domingo at 7 a.m. EST this morning. Its strength has fluctuated, but winds were up to 100 mph and were expected to get worse, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Hurricane winds extended 50 miles from the center, and tropical storm-force winds stretched another 145 miles.

The hurricane was expected to make a turn to the northeast and hit southwest Puerto Rico directly on Wednesday morning. It also was threatening Haiti and the Dominican Republic with heavy rain.

Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands were under hurricane warnings, while hurricane watches were declared for the southern coasts of Haiti and the Dominican Republic, which share the island of Hispaniola. Lenny passed south of Jamaica on Monday and a hurricane watch there was canceled.

Lenny's rains were an ominous development for already rain-saturated Hispaniola.

Police reported two toddlers died in mudslides in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital, at dawn Monday when Lenny was still more than 500 miles away. The walls of ravines saturated by a week of heavy rain smashed into mud houses on separate ends of the capital. The houses collapsed, smothering two 2-year-olds who were sleeping inside.

The storm could drop up to 10 inches of rain, and its winds could whip waves up to 16-feet high, forecasters said.

Meteorologist Ronnie Semexant of Haiti's weather bureau said people on the south coast were being asked to evacuate to higher ground.

''The land is already saturated from heavy rains, meaning that the slightest rain will cause flooding,'' he said. ''If the warnings are not heeded, it means certain death for many.''

Residents in low-lying areas of Santo Domingo, who experienced widespread flooding during last year's Hurricane Georges, said they had learned about Lenny by word of mouth. They were waiting for government officials to urge them to take precautions.

Similar complaints last year - when storm shelters were opened only after Georges struck - were blamed for the loss of dozens, if not hundreds, of lives.

''Look around here. Everyone's acting normal,'' fisherman Nelson Santos, 42, said as he prepared to haul his wooden boat from the Ozama River, already high on its banks.

''Why? Because there's no one to tell them to leave.''

Dominican government officials broadcast messages Monday warning that police would forcibly remove anyone who refused to leave endangered areas, and they ordered workers to open 1,377 shelters nationwide. But many residents of Santo Domingo's poorest, rain-soaked slums had no radios or televisions to hear the warnings. Others said they'd stayed in their homes to guard them from looters.

In Haiti, the poorest country on the continent where even fewer people have radios, officials worried that word would not reach remote areas.

In Puerto Rico, the main supermarket in old town San Juan was running out of water and hard liquor before it closed. The government consumers' association warned shopkeepers not to boost prices on necessities.

Lenny's appearance so late in the hurricane season mirrored Tropical Storm Gordon, which struck in November 1994 and killed at least 1,000 people in Haiti's southern provinces, drowning them in torrential streams or burying them in mudslides. Hurricane Georges swept over Hispaniola last year, killing more than 220 people in Haiti and 283 in the Dominican Republic, according to official counts that were considered low.

Lenny soaked the south of Jamaica on Sunday but caused no major damage.

It is the eighth Atlantic hurricane this year, late in the season that officially ends Nov. 30.

AP-NY-11-16-99 0928EST


Hurricane Lenny Strengthens

Storm May Threaten Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

.c The Associated Press

MIAMI (Nov. 15, 99) - Hurricane Lenny strengthened today, with wind reaching 100 mph, as it passed south of Jamaica on an eastward course that threatens Haiti and the Dominican Republic with wind and heavy rain.

The eighth hurricane of the Atlantic season also could affect Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Atlantic hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30.

A hurricane watch was posted for the south coast of Haiti, and the government of the Dominican Republic said it would issue a hurricane watch for the south coast of its portion of the island of Hispaniola.

A hurricane watch may be required for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands later today, U.S. hurricane forecasters said.

A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch were in effect for Jamaica but they could be lowered because the storm's easterly path posed less of a threat for that island.

At 10 a.m. EST, Lenny's center was located about 205 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

Lenny, the 12th named storm of the Atlantic season, was moving toward the east at 10 mph with maximum sustained wind of 100 mph. It could continue strengthening into Tuesday, forecasters said.

The mainland United States will not be affected, said hurricane specialist Richard Pasch.

Rainfall totals of 5 to 10 inches were likely along the hurricane's path.

''At the moment, the threat is the moisture coming down over a mountainous area and the potential for rain, even if there is not a direct hit,'' Pasch said.

Tropical storm or hurricane conditions were expected to affect southern Haiti by early Tuesday.

''We expect rain and its consequences, flooding and landslides,'' said Ronald Semelfort, a meteorologist at Haiti's national weather office. He said the storm threatened as many as four of Haiti's southern provinces, including the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Only a few hours after becoming a named a tropical storm Sunday, Lenny escalated to hurricane strength. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane once its top sustained wind reaches 74 mph.

AP-NY-11-15-99 1134EST


Hurricane Lenny Strengthens

.c The Associated Press

MIAMI (AP) - (November 15, 1999) With Haiti and Jamaica bracing for a brush with Hurricane Lenny, the storm grew stronger early today as it shifted eastward to possibly threaten Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A hurricane watch was posted for the southern coast of Haiti. A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch was in effect for Jamaica, but the storm's eastwardly path could cause the warning and watch to be lowered later today.

At 4 a.m. EST, Lenny was about 175 miles south of Kingston, Jamaica, the National Hurricane Center said.

Lenny, the 12th named storm of the Atlantic season, was moving east at 9 mph with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph. Some further strengthening could occur in the next 24 hours, forecasters said.

Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist, said Florida will not be affected by Lenny.

But residents of Haiti and Jamaica faced possible rainfall of 5 to 10 inches from the storm. Strong onshore winds were expected to cause storm surge flooding of 2 to 5 feet above normal tide levels along the southern coast of Jamaica.

``At the moment, the threat is the moisture coming down over a mountainous area and the potential for rain, even if there is not a direct hit,'' Pasch said.

Tropical storm or hurricane conditions were expected to affect the southern portion of Haiti by early Tuesday. Meteorologists in Haiti warned residents to prepare for the worst.

``We expect rain and its consequences, flooding and landslides,'' said Ronald Semelfort, a meteorologist at Haiti's national weather office. He said the storm threatened as many as four of Haiti's southern provinces, including the capital, Port-au-Prince.

In Jamaica, people shopped in pharmacies for batteries, flashlights and nonperishable food. Long lines formed at gas stations.

Only a few hours after becoming a named a tropical storm Sunday, Lenny escalated to hurricane strength. A tropical storm becomes a hurricane once its top sustained winds reach 74 mph.

AP-NY-11-15-99 0505EST