Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Tropical Storm Jeanne pounds Puerto Rico

A man arrives at a shelter in San Juan, as Tropical Storm Jeanne approaches. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

Tropical Storm Jeanne Slams Into in Puerto Rico As It Nears Hurricane Strength
The Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico Sept. 15, 2004 — Tropical Storm Jeanne, nearing hurricane strength, slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday as rivers rose, roads flowed with torrents of water and frantic residents evacuated low-lying areas.
Lashing rains and wind blew plants off terraces and felled trees as the storm's eye made landfall on the southeastern tip of the island Wednesday afternoon.

"The biggest concern for Puerto Rico is flashflooding and mudslides," said Hector Guerrero, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Streets in the tourist hub of colonial Old San Juan were deserted and most flights had been canceled. The largest mall in the Caribbean Plaza las Americas was also shut and Gov. Sila Calderon prohibited alcohol sales for the day to keep citizens alert.
The storm's projected path had it potentially reaching hurricane-weary Florida, Georgia and South Carolina either Sunday or Monday.
Jeanne is on track toward the island of Hispaniola where floods in May killed more than 3,000, and the Bahamas a chain of more than 700 islands that was battered recently by Hurricane Frances.
Chris Hennon, a meteorologist with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said Jeanne will probably become a hurricane Wednesday.
All Puerto Rican ports were closed. Gov. Sila Calderon banned alcohol sales in hopes of keeping citizens alert and urged people to stay indoors.
The largest mall in the Caribbean Plaza las Americas also was shut. Streets in the tourist hub of colonial Old San Juan were deserted and most flights had been canceled.
Calderon said Jeanne had cut water service to some 30,000 people in the northeast and knocked out electricity in about 1,000 homes just outside San Juan. Nearly 800 people had evacuated and were staying in shelters throughout Puerto Rico.
The storm passed St. Croix, the southernmost of the U.S. Virgin Islands, overnight, dumping about 7 inches of rain and leaving about 50,000 people without power, officials said.
At 2 p.m. EDT, Jeanne's center was about 25 miles south-southwest of San Juan.
Maximum sustained wind was near 70 mph, just 4 mph below hurricane status. Winds extended 60 miles.
"In the past year, we've lost everything in floods," said Francisco Santiago, one of 10 people who took refuge at a shelter in Yabucoa in the southeast where more than 2 inches of rain has fallen and strong bursts of wind were being felt.
Shell Chemicals shut a petrochemical refinery in Yabacoa because of the storm.
Passenger ferry service to Puerto Rico's outlying tourist islands of Vieques and Culebra was suspended, authorities said. Government offices and courts were closed in Puerto Rico.
Carnival Cruise Lines diverted four ships because of Jeanne, said spokesman Vance Gullicksen. Disney Cruise Line diverted the Disney Magic to Nassau, Bahamas, instead of St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said spokeswoman Rena Langley.
Few cars were on the roads, but at Mi Antojito cafe in north-coast Luquillo, Nancy Lauriano served grilled ham-and-cheese sandwiches to a trickle of people clutching windblown umbrellas.
"It came fast, too fast, but looks weak to me. I think only water is going to come," Lauriano said.
She had fixed metal storm shutters around her home, but many houses were left unprotected.
Jeanne, the 10th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was moving west-northwest near 8 mph.
In the past two weeks, the region has seen three major hurricanes Charley, Frances and the deadliest of them all, Ivan, which killed 68 people in the Caribbean. Ivan was near the mouth of the Mississippi River, threatening to hit the U.S. mainland on Thursday.
"It just never stops!" said Merce Roca, a real estate agent in the old colonial section of San Juan, where she spent hours bolting her mansion's large wooden doors and pulling tropical plants in from her courtyard. "It seems like we've been doing this everyday."
American Airlines canceled 17 flights leaving San Juan and six to the city on Wednesday.
Government offices, schools and courts and banks were closed Wednesday, and casinos which draw thousands of tourists to the U.S. territory each day and have to be inspected by government officials likely would remain idle. Mail would not be delivered.
Eight to 12 inches of rainfall were expected in Puerto Rico, which last was struck by Hurricane Georges in 1998.
The U.S. Virgin Islands emergency management agency gave sandbags to residents in low-lying areas and told them to be ready to evacuate even though the storm was not forecast to directly strike the territory of 110,000 residents.
Heavy rains associated with Jeanne lashed the British Virgin Islands on Tuesday night, causing minor landslides across hilly areas. Debris covered sections of roads in Tortola.
Some 50,000 lost power in St. Croix, the southernmost of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which the storm passed overnight, officials said. Airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands remained closed.
Associated Press reporters Paisley Dodds in San Juan and Mat Probasco in the U.S. Virgin Islands contributed to this report.