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Financial impact seen from Debby

BY LYNDA BOHR | U.S. Virgin Islands | August 24, 2000

U.S. Virgin Islands residents hammered by a half dozen hurricanes and tropical storms in four of the last five years fear that Hurricane Debby's visit on Aug. 22 was just a dress

rehearsal for the rest of the hurricane season.

Hurricane Debby, only a category one storm, made a direct hit on St. John and St. Thomas, but winds in most areas failed to reach hurricane strength. There were no reports of

property damage, and only trees at higher elevations lost some of their leaves. However, some financial damage from lost wages and decreased tourism is expected. St. Croix

escaped unscathed.

"I thank the Lord we have come through okay, but we are a long way from hurricane season being over," said Alvis Christian, deputy director at the V.I. Territorial Emergency

Management Agency.

Hurricane season runs from June 1 until Nov. 30. Historically, September has been the worst month for the arrival of hurricanes, but in 1999, Tropical Storm Jose visited in

October and Hurricane Lenny in November.

However, even a category one hurricane takes its toll. Residents spent hours boarding up their homes, securing their lawn furniture and shopping for canned food, water and

flashlight batteries in case the hurricane turned out to be a major disaster.

"You have to prepare for a minor hurricane the same as you do for a major one," St. John resident Robert Charleston said.

Charleston, a carpenter, lost two days pay. He spent the day before the storm boarding up his house and preparing his boat rather than working. And, no one except emergency

crews went to work the day of the hurricane.

Even if they were inclined to go out in the wind, businesses were closed thanks to a curfew imposed by Gov. Charles Turnbull as a precautionary measure. He lifted it at the end

of the day, but few people ventured out in the driving rain that intermittently hit St. Thomas and St. John.

The biggest blow came to the territory's tourism-based economy. Some visitors left the island, but others couldn't get airplane seats or preferred to stay. Those that remained

spent the day in shuttered hotel rooms or vacation villas. At the upscale Caneel Bay Resort in St. John, the staff supplied the guests with picnic hampers filled with enough food to

last for the hurricane's duration.

Shopkeepers, restaurateurs, tour operators and taxi drivers lost revenue when cruiseships scheduled to call in St. Thomas and St. Croix rerouted their ships to avoid Debby.

Despite the financial losses, residents counted their blessings that Debby was no more than a minimal storm. "Frankly, we were very lucky," Tourism Commissioner Rafael

Jackson said in a news release issued as the storm passed.

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