Jeanne Hits Puerto Rico, Kills Two

Published September 15, 2004

| Associated Press

Tropical Storm Jeanne (search) slammed into Puerto Rico on Wednesday, flooding neighborhoods, knocking out power and stranding thousands of tourists in the U.S. territory where hundreds fled low-lying areas. At least two people were killed.

Torrents of rain turned roads into waist-deep rivers and the winds tore branches from trees. Some 200,000 people in the U.S. territory were without water. Authorities also turned off power to prevent plant damage.

The storm's eye made landfall near the southeastern town of Yabucoa around noon EDT, said Scott Stripling, a U.S. National Weather Service (search) meteorologist in San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital. The storm began exiting the island around 5 p.m. on a course for the Dominican Republic, he said.

Jeanne could continue dumping rain on Puerto Rico through Friday because the storm's tail extends some 200 miles, said Rafael Mojica, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Hurricane-strength wind gusts buffeted the mountainous interior of the island, which is home to some 4 million people. Many islanders fled low-lying areas.

The storm's projected path had it potentially reaching hurricane-weary Florida, Georgia and South Carolina either Sunday or Monday.

Between 8 and 10 inches of rain were expected in Puerto Rico, which last was struck by Hurricane Georges in 1998. Isolated tornadoes also were possible.

All ports were closed. Gov. Sila Calderon (search) prohibited alcohol sales and urged residents to stay indoors as the storm passed. The largest mall in the Caribbean — Plaza las Americas — also shut down.

"The biggest concern for Puerto Rico is flash flooding and mudslides," said Hector Guerrero, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Nearly 1,000 people fled to shelters.

Margarita Rivera was killed when lashing winds tore the roof from her house and flung her from a hammock into the side of a neighbor's house, said Yabucoa's Mayor Angel Garcia.

"I don't what happened," her husband, Santiago Borges, said as emergency medical workers treated his minor injuries. "The roof flew off with everything."

On the north coast, in Vega Baja, 78-year-old Arturo Roman Crespo was on a roof trying to put up storm shutters when he fell to the ground and was killed instantly, police said. They also reported a man injured in the central town of Lares when a tree hit his car.

About 50,000 people lost power in St. Croix (search), the southernmost of the U.S. Virgin Islands, when the storm passed overnight, officials said. Airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands remained closed and some streets in St. Thomas were flooded. Minor landslides partially covered roads in the British Virgin Islands.

"In the past year, we've lost everything in floods," said Francisco Santiago, who went to a shelter in Yabucoa as winds downed power lines and scattered debris across streets.

Jeanne is headed on a track toward the island of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, where floods in May killed more than 3,000 people, and the Bahamas — a chain of more than 700 islands battered recently by Hurricane Frances.

At 5 p.m. EDT, Jeanne's center was 25 miles west of San Juan. Maximum sustained winds strengthened to 70 mph, just 4 mph below hurricane status.

Jeanne became the 10th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season Tuesday and was moving west-northwest near 9 mph. The National Hurricane Center said Jeanne could strengthen as it moved into the Atlantic and could become a hurricane late Wednesday or Thursday.

The storm prompted the canceling of flights, stranding thousands of tourists — many of them on two cruise ships in San Juan Bay.

"We've never been in anything like this," said Javier Lozano, 39, a Los Angeles police officer spending his first wedding anniversary here.

The Lozanos were staying at the north-coast Westin Rio Mar beach resort, where the golf course was partly flooded and trees were toppled. About 300 guests were at the hotel, where employees set up pingpong and card tables to help guests pass the time.

"We're bored," said Patricia Hernandez, a housewife from Santiago, Chile. "We hope they open the airport soon. The Caribbean without warmth is no fun."

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 south of the Alabama coast and threatening to hit the U.S. mainland on Thursday.

Shell Chemicals shut a petrochemical refinery in Yabucoa because of the storm that turned roads into rivers in eastern Rio Grande, where water was waist deep in some places.

Government offices, including mail service, and courts were closed in Puerto Rico. Inter-island ferry service was suspended.

A hurricane warning was posted for the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico; the advisory in the U.S. Virgin Islands was downgraded to a tropical storm warning. A tropical storm warning and hurricane watch covered the British Virgin Islands. A hurricane watch was issued for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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