Hurricane Georges pounds Caribbean islands
Web posted at: 6:22 a.m. EDT (1022 GMT)
ST. JOHN'S, Antigua (AP) -- Packing 110-mph (175-km/h) winds, Hurricane Georges barreled into the northeastern Caribbean Monday, flooding towns, knocking out electricity and forcing hundreds to evacuate their homes.
More than 1,600 people sought shelter in schools and public buildings in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, where Georges was expected to strike later Monday. Both U.S. territories declared states of emergency and activated National Guard troops to help evacuations and patrol streets.
"This hurricane has the characteristics of being the strongest that we have confronted in Puerto Rico in decades," warned Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello, adding the storm could bring "havoc and difficulties for our people."
Its strength diminished considerably from a monstrous 150 mph (240 kph) on Sunday, but with gusts up to 138 mph (220 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center warned the storm was "extremely dangerous" and capable of extensive damage.
In the French island of Guadeloupe, raging seas flooded roads in the northern towns of Anse-Bertrand and Campeche and forced residents living near the beach to head for shelter inland. France was sending a team of 170 civil defense workers to help recovery efforts.
Residents brace for worst
Swirling winds knocked out power in several Guadeloupe towns. "An incredible sound" from a darkened, angry sea is how Jean Barfleur, mayor of Port-Louis, described the hurricane's roar.
Georges downed lampposts and darkened all of St. Kitts, population 32,000, while in Antigua families huddled in basements and shop owners erected sandbag barricades to stop flooding. In St. John's, Antigua's capital, civil defense workers distributed flashlights, mosquito coils, water and toilet paper to nervous shelter residents.
Under hurricane warnings, residents in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands furiously boarded windows and jammed markets to stock up on ice, water and canned food.
"Why take chances with something that we cannot change?" said St. Croix resident Marion Jones as she put up storm shutters on her home.
U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Roy Schneider imposed a 8 p.m. curfew and asked President Bill Clinton to declare a federal state of emergency that would release federal aid.
Emergency teams arrive in Virgin Islands
Advance teams from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, the FBI and the American Red Cross arrived in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to coordinate disaster response. FEMA also organized a 62-member search and rescue team in Miami to fly to Puerto Rico after the storm passes. Teams from Virginia and Maryland went on alert for St. Croix and St. Thomas.
In Puerto Rico, Gov. Rossello announced a ban on liquor sales, activated the island's National Guard and ordered officials to open more than 330 shelters. Banks and schools closed Monday, major airlines canceled flights to and from the U.S. mainland, and with 20-foot seas forecast, ferry service to the eastern islands of Culebra and Vieques was suspended.
More than 1,000 people left their homes for shelters in San Juan, Arecibo, Mayaguez and other cities, and officials planned Monday to order residents to leave homes in flood-prone areas. Up to 15 inches of rain was expected in Puerto Rico's mountains, raising the threat of mudslides.
Further west, the Dominican Republic issued a hurricane watch, meaning hurricane conditions could occur there by Tuesday.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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