Hurricane Lenny heads for Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands
Hurricane Lenny, a dangerous Category 4 storm packing winds of 135 mph, is churning toward Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. As the outer bands soak the region with heavy rains -- which could accumulate to 15 inches in some areas -- islanders are bracing themselves for damaging winds, flooding and mudslides.
In Puerto Rico, schools and businesses have been closed, non-essential government employees have been sent home and 332 hurricane shelters are opening. The sale of alcohol on the island has been banned and the price of emergency supplies and basic groceries have been frozen as people rush to the stores and empty the shelves.
At 8 a.m. EST the center of Hurricane Lenny was about 115 miles south-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico and 70 miles southwest of St. Croix. With maximum sustained winds of 135 mph with higher gusts, the National Hurricane Center warns that Lenny is a dangerous Category 4 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale.
The late-season storm, which was traveling on an unusual west-to-east course, has been dubbed "left-handed Lenny" because of its odd path. "It's unheard of," said veteran meteorologist John Tweeny on San Juan's WOSO-AM radio. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."
With the hurricane season officially ending in less than two weeks on November 30, the powerful storm caught islanders by surprise and sent people rushing to gas stations, hardware and grocery stores.
"We're taking no chances," Gadiel Rivera, a 30-year-old accountant buying plywood to board up the windows of his home told CNN. "Everyone remembers Georges, who gave Puerto Rico a real beating." Georges killed more than 500 people throughout the Caribbean last year.
As Lenny approaches, U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Charles Turnbell declared a state of emergency and a 9 p.m. curfew to prevent looting. The National Guard has also been put on alert.
In Puerto Rice there's concern about a group of protesters who are camping out on a U.S. bombing range on the outlying Island of Vieques. The protesters, who are opposed to live-fire training on the island, plan to ride out the storm in an abandoned army tank used for target practice.
Lenny's outer rain bands have already saturated the south coast of Puerto Rico and there are fears that the hurricane could cause flooding and landslides. A storm surge up to 7 feet above normal and large and dangerous battering waves are expected.
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