Thursday, September 16, 2004

Jeanne becomes Hurricane


This satellite image gathered at 7:53 a.m. EDT Thursday Sept. 16, 2004 shows Hurricane Jeanne hugging the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, moving west near 9 mph, with a gradual turn toward the west-northwest expected in the next 24 hours. Jeanne strengthened from a tropical storm into the sixth hurricane of the season and struck the evacuated eastern tip of the Dominican Republic on Thursday. (AP Photo/NOAA)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - Jeanne strengthened from a tropical storm into the sixth hurricane of the season and struck the evacuated eastern tip of the Dominican Republic on Thursday, a day after lashing Puerto Rico with damaging winds and rain that knocked out power, flooded roads and killed two people.

A hurricane warning was posted for the eastern and northern coasts of the Dominican Republic, as forecasters told the storm-weary Caribbean to monitor the progress of Jeanne, which had 80 mph winds with higher gusts.

The storm could potentially reach Florida, Georgia and South Carolina by the beginning of next week, according to the National Hurricane Center (news - web sites) in Miami.

"It is over land as we speak ... right on Cabo Engano," said meteorologist Mike Tichacek of the hurricane center.

The small fishing and farming village was evacuated Wednesday by Dominican authorities who said hundreds of people fled homes on the north coast and outlying island of Saona.

At 8 a.m. EDT, Jeanne was hugging the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, moving west near 9 mph, with a gradual turn toward the west-northwest expected in the next 24 hours.

A tropical storm becomes a hurricane when its winds reach 74 mph.

But even as a tropical storm, Jeanne was powerful enough to cause havoc in Puerto Rico, buffeting the island of 4 million with wind gusts near 80 mph.

About 3,600 Puerto Ricans were evacuated to shelters, 38 roads were blocked, most residents were without electricity and some 600,000 were without running water, Gov. Sila Calderon said.

"A sudden storm hit us in an unexpected way and with a strength much greater than we had expected," she said at a news conference Thursday. "It left a wake of destruction that we now have to face."

Government offices would remain closed a second day, she said, urging people who did not need to go to work to stay home to aid clean-up efforts on debris-strewn roads.

Police rescued one couple from a car stuck in rising floodwaters on a main highway in north-coast Rio Grande before the vehicle was swept away, authorities said.

"They got out through the window," emergency official Hector Rosa said.

Others were not so fortunate.

Lashing winds tore the roof from Margarita Rivera's house, flung her from a hammock and smashed her into the wall of a neighbor's house, said Mayor Angel Garcia of Yabucoa, the southeastern town where the storm's eye hit land. Rivera, who died, was 49.

In north-coast Vega Baja, 78-year-old Arturo Roman Crespo died instantly after falling from a roof where he was putting up storm shutters, police said. They also reported a man injured in the central town of Lares when a downed tree hit his car.


Agriculture officials said plantain, banana and coffee crops probably sustained major damage.

The storm plowed northwest across the middle of the island and exited near Vega Baja, said meteorologist Scott Stripling of the U.S. National Weather Service

Jeanne dumped up to 16 inches of rain on Puerto Rico that could continue through Friday because the storm's tail extended far past St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Rafael Mojica, a hurricane center meteorologist.

About 50,000 people lost power in St. Croix, but half were back by evening, officials said. Airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands remained closed.

Jeanne was expected to skirt the northeast coast of the Hispaniola island, where floods in May killed more than 3,000 in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Jeanne was then forecast to pass the 700-island Bahamas chain, recently battered by Hurricane Frances, the Hurricane Center said.

In Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, airports were closed and businesses shuttered. Wednesday night, people mobbed a Ben and Jerry's ice cream parlor that was giving away ice cream that otherwise would spoil in the blacked-out Puerto Rican capital.

Jeanne became the 10th named storm of a busy Atlantic season Tuesday. Three major hurricanes have been through in two weeks — Charley, Frances and the deadliest of them all, Ivan, which killed 68 people in the Caribbean.

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Associated Press reporters Frank Griffiths, Ian James, Paisley Dodds and Manuel Ernesto Rivera in Puerto Rico and Mat Probasco in the U.S. Virgin Islands contributed to this report.