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Gas Line Explodes, Catches Fire at San Juan Airport; 2 Injured With PM-Hugo, Bjt

September 20, 1989

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ A propane gas line exploded and caught fire at Puerto Rico’s international airport today as it reopened after Hurricane Hugo. At least two people were reported injured.

On St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, food and water were in short supply, looting was rampant and law enforcement had collapsed. Witnesses said today that hundreds of looters were ransacking stores on the hard-hit island and loading garbage bags full of food and jewelry.

Tourists pleaded with reporters landing on the Virgin Island to take them off, and the U.S. Coast Guard today reported gunshots and looting in the night.

″We did not see one cop in Christensted, and that’s the main town,″ said Gary Williams, a San Juan reporter who flew to the island. ″We saw a National Guard truck filled to capacity with all kinds of stuff in it.″

The propane gas explosion occurred in a Delta Air Lines terminal being built at San Juan’s Luis Munos Marin International Airport, and firefighters were battling the blaze, said Jose Felix, superintendent of airport security. He said two people were overcome by gas fumes and taken away in an ambulance.

The airport remained open, despite the blaze.

Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon of Puerto Rico said Tuesday that damage to his island alone would run in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

″This is a tragedy of major proportions, which has left desolation among the people and a swath of destruction,″ he said.

More than 50,000 people across the Caribbean lost homes in the storm.

Civil Defense spokeswoman Cizanette Rivera said the storm, the region’s worst in a decade, claimed 25 lives Sunday and Monday as it churned westward through the Leeward Islands and hit Puerto Rico before heading northwest.

She had no island-by-island breakdown of the deaths.

Police in Puerto Rico said today that a power authority lineman, William Cancel Armai, 40, was killed Tuesday and that authorities discovered the body of a man on a pleasure boat off the eastern port of Fajardo. Police identified him as Robert Williams of Michigan, but gave no age or hometown.

The latest reported deaths bring the toll to four people killed in Puerto Rico. Other confirmed deaths included nine people on the British Island of Montserrat, five on the French territory of Guadeloupe and two on Antigua.

Hotels, businesses and homeowners on the U.S. commonwealth were busy cleaning up and doing repairs Tuesday, but it appeared that damage was so extensive that it would be weeks before life would return to normal.

The American Red Cross said in Washington that it would send its first relief supplies including 15,000 tents to Puerto Rico today on a flight from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey.

A plane chartered by the British Red Cross was to leave Britain today with plastic sheeting, 1 million water purification tablets and blankets for Antigua, Montserrat, the British Virgin Islands and St. Kitts.

In London, British honeymooners and vactioners returning home from the Caribbean today likened Hugo’s devastation to World War II.

″It was a bit like the Blitz,″ said 84-year-old Vera Herridge, referring to the Nazi bombing of London. Others among the 250 British tourists told of hiding from the storm in bathrooms, closets and under beds while hotel balconies collapsed and palm trees crashed through windows around them.

Ham radio operators reported that 97 percent of the buildings were damaged or destroyed on St. Croix, which has a population of 53,000.

There were reports of gangs moving through the streets with rifles.

Witnesses said authorities were joining in the looting.

Ham operators corroborated the report of the collapse of law enforcement. One, Stuart Haimes of Queens, N.Y., said an undetermined number of inmates had either escaped or been released because of prison damage and also were looting. On Montserrat, which has a population of 12,000, Gov. Christopher Turner said the island suffered millions of dollars of damage and that tourism would be set back by at least six months.

British sailors ″working like Trojans″ today reopened Montserrat’s airport and worked to restore power and roads links, said captain of the Royal Navy warship Alacrity, Cmdr. Colin Ferbrache.

Hernandez Colon, who has requested federal disaster aid, said he would ask the Bush administration to delcare 55 of the U.S. commonwealth’s 78 municipalities disaster areas eligible for federal help.

Most hotel managers in San Juan would not give dollar estimates of damages but Hugo shattered the windows of many and flooded rooms.

″We have much more than $100,000 in damage,″ said Henry Walther, general manager of the Condado Plaza and Casino, one of Puerto Rico’s swankiest hotels.

Juan Miguel Domenech, director of Puerto Rico’s Department of Tourism, said the government will begin a U.S. advertising campaign to offset any negative effect on local tourism caused by the hurricane. Nearly 860,000 tourists visited the island last year, spending about $1.1 billion.

Hernandez Colon said at least 50,000 people in Puerto Rico either lost their homes or had them severely damaged. Officials said 27,000 people were housed in temporary government shelters Tuesday.

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