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Disbelief follows hurricane

BY LYNDA LOHR | ST. Croix, U.S.V.I | November 19, 1999

ST. CROIX, U.S.V.I. (Nov. 19, 1999) -- St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands bore the brunt of Hurricane Lenny, a late-season

storm that took residents by surprise with its unusual west-to-east track on Nov. 17.

As residents there struggle to assess damages, Hurricane Lenny stalled over St. Maartan, wreaking havoc with hours of

severe wind and blinding rain that hid the extent of damage, cut off communications, and had friends and family members

anxious about the safety of their loved ones.

"I can't believe this happened to us," said Dulcy Kushmore, who owns Seaview Farm Inn outside Frederiksted on the western

end of St. Croix.

Hurricane-weary residents who suffered storms in the last four out of five years were also brushed by another late season

storm, Tropical Storm Jose, which hit on Oct. 21.

Emergency shelters and service centers are helping to meet the needs of scores of people displaced by the storm. The

American Red Cross is addressing emergency needs, and faith-based response teams are en route to the area to plan a

long-term response.

Church World Service disaster resource facilitator Joann Hale said that there seems to be more damage from flooding than

from wind. "There has also been significant flooding in Puerto Rico even though they escaped a direct hit," she said.

As Lenny's eye passed about 35 miles south of St. Croix, wind gusts of up to 150 mph were reported. Residents reporting

sustained winds of around 100 mph.

Kushmore said it sounded like someone with a fire hose was shooting at her metal storm shutters.

Seas in Frederiksted, at the island's western end, reached 10 to 15 feet.

"It was surreal," Kushmore said.

Rain and wind was expected to lash the islands through late on Nov. 19 as Lenny's outer bands moved through the area.

Gov. Charles Turnbull declared a state of emergency and President Clinton named the territory a federal disaster area,

making it eligible for federal aid.

However, compared to the widespread devastation that came in 1995 with Hurricane Marilyn and in 1989 with Hurricane

Hugo, some residents compared Lenny to a day at the beach.

Frederiksted at the western end of St. Croix suffered the most damage. A section of the cruise ship pier, which is a key player

in the island's economy, was damaged. V.I. Port Authority Director Gordon Finch said that he expects repairs to be

completed in four to six weeks.

The huge waves washed sand and a massive buoy up into Strand Street, Frederiksted's waterfront street. Some businesses

along that street suffered damage.

A few homes were destroyed outside of Frederiksted, and houses across the island lost their roofs. Flooding was reported in

many areas, and many trees went down.

"It's a big cleanup job," Kushmore said.

At. St. Croix Yacht Club on the island's east end, most of the boats moored in the harbor were tossed up on the beach. Some

looting was reported in St. Croix.

St. Thomas and St. John had minimal damage. Trees lost limbs and rocks and mud slid down the hilly slopes. However, V.I.

National Park Superintendent Russ Berry said the park, which occupies two-thirds of St. John's 20 square miles, suffered $1.6

to $2.2 million worth of damages.

One road slumped downhill, park buildings suffered damage, a visitor's center under construction in the main town of Cruz

Bay lost its subroofing, and trees went down.

As of Nov. 18, most of the island's hotels on all three islands were open. However, St. Croix's Divi Carina Bay Resort casino,

which was still under construction and slated to open in mid-December, suffered extensive damage.

The V.I. Water and Power Authority on Nov. 19 still had not restored power to St. Croix. Most of St. Thomas and St. John

had power, but there were a couple of areas that remained in the dark.

Schools and government offices reopened in St. Thomas and St. John on Nov. 19. A curfew imposed by Gov. Charles

Turnbull as the storm approached was lifted at noon on Nov. 18.

In St. Croix, the island remained under curfew from 4 p.m. to 7 a.m. Schools and government offices remained closed.

Telephone service operated in most areas throughout the storm. Shelters opened as the storm approached remained opened

on Nov. 19. In St. John, the island's two shelters housed campers who were evacuated from the National Park's Cinnamon

Bay Campground.

"It came blowing through, but this was the safest place to be," said Brian Bezdek, a former Santa Barbara, Calif. resident who

moved to St. John just three days before Lenny hit.

He and three friends had planned to camp at Cinnamon Bay, located at the water's edge, for two weeks until they moved

into their rental apartment.

While residents were relieved that they got off without horrendous damage, the territory's tourism-based economy took a

blow.

Erroneous reports of deaths and houses crumbled to rubble made the national news, a situation that tourism officials feared

would discourage tourists already packing their suitcases for Thanksgiving weekend trips to the territory.

"We are working hard to combat this," said Richard Doumeng, president of the St. Thomas/St. John Hotel and Tourism

Association. He said that the national news media fails to follow up after a storm passes so mainland views are left with no

word about the actual extent of damage.

"People who have been spared are not as interesting as people who have been whacked," Doumeng said.

Tourists and residents will also have to make do without locally grown produce. The territory's small farming industry

suffered a major loss.

"We lost 90 percent of our crops," St. John farmer Josephine Roller said.


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