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Massive hurricane slams Caribbean

BY SUSAN KIM | Jamaica | November 18, 1999

A massive Hurricane Lenny slammed through the Caribbean Wednesday with blasting rain and winds of nearly 150-mph.

The storm caused hundreds of people in the U.S. Virgin Islands to flee their homes, smashed boats, ripped off roofs, and

shattered windows. Residents -- many of whom reported they were accustomed to hurricane preparation -- were caught off

guard by Lenny's rapid strengthening.

When the storm scored a direct hit on the island of St. Croix, it raised tides 18 feet above normal. Scores of people in St. Lucia

were left homeless as well.

Grenada also suffered the brunt of Lenny's force, with roaring waves smashing homes and boats. In parts of Puerto Rico and in

Colombia, flash flooding and mudslides were a deadly threat due to Lenny's heavy rains.

Hurricane Lenny was a Category 4 storm -- nearly the highest Category 5 -- when it raked the Caribbean.

Forecasters said the hurricane brought up to 15 inches of rain in the hardest hit areas, and as Lenny headed toward the

northeastern, the storm brought equal amounts.

In St. Croix, the Rev. Rafael Quinones, a Methodist pastor, rode out the storm with three families in the church parsonage. "We

expected worse hour by hour," he said.

The governors of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico asked President Clinton to declare states of emergency in the two U.S.


Response groups in the Caribbean and in the U.S. are ready to meet survivors' needs as soon as they can accurately assess

damages. U.S.- based Church World Service consultants are closely monitoring the situation while communicating with

ecumenical groups in the Caribbean.

Before Hurricane Lenny, the Virgin Islands had escaped a direct hit by hurricanes this season.

Even though Puerto Rico did not sustain a direct hit as feared, heavy rains and winds did lash southeastern Puerto Rico, raising

fears of deadly mudslides similar to those wrought by Hurricane Georges in September 1998.

People in Puerto Rico, still recovering from Hurricane Georges' destruction of some 45,000 homes, anxiously followed Lenny's

path, remembering all to clearly the devasation that followed last year's hurricane.

"One scenario had the storm's eye passing right by my head," said the Rev. Francisco Vecezquez-Rodriguez, a Presbyterian

pastor in Puerto Rico who helped lead interfaith recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Georges.

"But it passed about 125 miles south of San Juan," he added.

Rodriguez said that preparing for Hurricane Lenny amounted to a simulation exercise. "Our ecumenical committee was on alert.

I had calls from the press and from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)."

Rodgiguez was among many residents and forecasters alike who were surprised by Hurricane Lenny's unusual west-to-east


Hurricane Lenny dumped torrential rain on Jamaica and the Cayman Islands earlier this week.

It is the 12th named storm of the Atlantic season and this year's eight hurricane. Forecasters said that the American mainland

will not be affected by the storm.

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