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Tropical Storm Stalls in Caribbean, Virgin Islanders Still Wary

September 9, 1996

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) _ Airlines canceled flights, schools closed down and residents of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands stocked up on emergency goods Sunday as Tropical Storm Hortense edged toward St. Croix.

Tropical storm warnings were in effect from the British Virgin Islands westward through Puerto Rico, but forecasters backed off from earlier predictions the storm might reach hurricane strength by Monday.

By 11 p.m. EDT, Hortense had slowed to a near standstill 105 miles southeast of St. Croix, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Winds of 60 mph extended more than 100 miles from the storm’s center.

The center said winds could increase in the next 12 to 24 hours. Up to 10 inches of rain was expected for islands near the storm’s path, with the possibility of dangerous flooding in Caribbean mountains.

Warnings were lifted for the eastern Caribbean islands Sunday afternoon.

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

``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.″

To prepare for the storm, Puerto Rican Gov. Pedro Rossello allowed stores to stay open past 5 p.m. on Sundays and banned the sale of alcoholic beverages after 8 p.m. Public schools across Puerto Rico will be closed Monday so the buildings can 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.

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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