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Tropical Storm Sweeps through Caribbean

September 8, 1996

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Despite signs that Tropical Storm Hortense was losing its punch, authorities in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands braced for the worst Sunday, stocking shelters and canceling flights.

Tropical storm warnings were lifted for eastern Caribbean islands by Sunday afternoon, as Hortense moved northwestward toward St. Croix, the southernmost U.S. Virgin Island. Winds dropped from 60 mph to 50 mph.

But tropical storm warnings remained in effect from the British Virgin Islands westward through Puerto Rico.

``People are still worried and they are taking precautions, boarding up and all,″ said Wilda Davis, a Red Cross worker on St. Croix. ``They don’t want to take any chances.″

Hortense was about 110 miles southeast of St. Croix on Sunday afternoon, moving west at 9 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

Tropical storm-force winds were expected to hit St. Croix just after midnight and move into eastern Puerto Rico early Monday morning, as the eye of the storm crosses south of the islands.

Up to 10 inches of rain was expected for islands near the storm’s path, with the possibility of dangerous flooding in Caribbean mountains.

Hortense battered the French Caribbean island of Martinique with heavy rains Saturday, knocking down power lines and flooding roads before sweeping westward early Sunday.

To prepare for the storm, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello suspended a law that forces stores to close at 5 p.m. on Sundays. He also banned the sale of alcoholic beverages after 8 p.m. Public schools across Puerto Rico will be closed on Monday, so the buildings can be used as hurricane shelters.

American Airlines, which has its regional hub in San Juan, said Sunday that 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.

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.

At the Gannet Hardware store in Gallows Bay, St. Croix, manager Phil Crosier saw only a brief run on supplies.

``We’ve been hit so many times that everyone is pretty calm here,″ he said. ``It’s not like the frenzies of years ago. Everyone knows what to do.″

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