Copyright =A9 1996 The Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Sep 9, 1996 08:30 a.m. EDT) -- Hortense revved up to a hurricane today and forecasters predicted the storm would gain strength as it swirled toward the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
A hurricane hunter plane found Hortense had sustained winds of up to 80 mph today, with tropical force winds extending 145 miles from the storm's center.
By 5 a.m. EDT today, Hurricane Hortense had stalled about 200 miles southeast of Puerto Rico, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. A tropical storm warning was in effect for the Virgin Islands westward through Puerto Rico.
Hortense is moving west-northwest at 7 mph and was expected to grow stronger in the next 24 hours.
If Hortense continues on the same course, the center of the storm should be about 70 miles southwest of Ponce, Puerto Rico by 9 p.m. EST.
Seas in the U.S. Virgin Islands were expected to reach 12 feet or higher by mid-morning as the eastern half of the storm arrives, the weather said.
Up to 10 inches of rain was forecast for islands near the storm's path, with the possibility of flash flooding in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. A tropical storm watch was in effect for the southern coast of the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
Hortense battered the French Caribbean island of Martinique with heavy rains Saturday, knocking down power lines and flooding roads before sweeping westward early Sunday.
On Sunday, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello allowed stores to stay open late so residents could stock up on emergency goods. Public schools across Puerto Rico were closed today so the buildings could be used as hurricane shelters.
American Airlines, which has its regional hub in San Juan, said Sunday it was canceling flights to other Caribbean islands. Delta Airlines also canceled some flights, the Puerto Rican Port Authority reported.
On St. Croix, a popular tourist destination, hotel owners battened down the hatches but appeared calm.
"People are still worried and they are taking precautions, boarding up and all," said Wilda Davis, a Red Cross worker on St. Croix, the southernmost U.S. Virgin island. "They don't want to take any chances."
King's Alley Hotel in Christiansted closed its open-air bar after breakfast, and employees pulled in lawn furniture and boarded up the hotel.
"We are definitely bracing for it," said shift manager David Malone.
Copyright =A9 1996 Nando.net