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Forecasters Predict Hortense Will Bypass Northeastern U.S.

September 13, 1996

NASSAU, Bahamas (AP) _ With its frightening mass of 125-mph winds and torrential rains, Hurricane Hortense took aim at the northeastern United States today _ but forecasters say it will likely miss.

Hortense swiped at the Turks and Caicos on Thursday and barreled harmlessly past the Bahamas after two direct strikes that killed 16 people, demolished hundreds of homes and destroyed more than $100 million worth of crops in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

The storm’s winds weakened overnight from 140 mph to 125 mph.

``It is decreasing in strength,″ Trisha Wallace of the National Hurricane Center in Miami said today. ``We’re looking at 36 hours before it even gets as far north as New England.″

She said the storm will move faster, produce less rain and not have much of a chance of strengthening.

``It’s still on track for the easternmost part of New England, and then Nova Scotia and Newfoundland ... but we should start seeing a turn to the northeast in a day or two,″ center meteorologist Mike Hopkins said Thursday.

Hortense, which made two unexpected changes of direction to strike a devastating blow Tuesday on Puerto Rico, has accelerated into a much more formidable, yet more predictable, storm, Hopkins said.

Early this morning, Hortense’s eye was located about 560 miles south-southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C., and moving north at 20 mph with hurricane force winds stretching 105 miles across. Sustained winds decreased from 140 mph to 125 mph overnight.

Heavy surf from the storm could reach southeastern U.S. shores by today, and there was a slight chance the storm could threaten Long Island, N.Y., Rhode Island, or Cape Cod, Mass., by Sunday, forecasters said.

In Mexico, another hurricane was menacing the Pacific coast. On the lower half of the Baja California peninsula ports closed to all vessels as Hurricane Fausto moved closer, with sustained winds of 105 mph.

Fausto could reach the peninsula’s southern portion early this morning.

Hortense left at least 14 dead in Puerto Rico, two dead in Dominican Republic and thousands homeless after punishing torrents of rain that collapsed mountainsides into mudslides and burst river banks, which swept away people and their homes.

In Puerto Rico, people took to flooded streets in kayaks and canoes, and some homes were still submerged in a foot of water Thursday.

Their misery was compounded by widespread water and power outages _ about 40 percent of the island’s 3.6 million people still had no power Thursday _ but federal help was on the way.

President Clinton has declared four Puerto Rican towns disaster areas, making residents eligible for federal grants, low-interest loans and emergency housing.

More than 7,600 people were registered at 115 shelters Thursday.

In the Dominican Republic, 200 families were evacuated Thursday from the flooded seaside town of Higuey, 90 miles east of Santo Domingo, the capital.

Damage estimates for Puerto Rico reached $155 million and were certain to rise, Gov. Pedro Rossello said. Agricultural losses alone reached $128 million, with coffee and banana plantations severely damaged.

In the capital of San Juan, food rotted in refrigerators and health inspectors visited grocery stores and warehouses to ensure the disposal of spoiled food.

Officials also warned that standing water on the saturated island could produce disease-carrying mosquitoes. Dengue fever is always a danger on the island.

Those lucky enough to have water in Puerto Rico often had a mud-colored liquid emerge from the tap. Residents endured long lines in up to 90-degree heat for such essentials as ice and drinking water.

Pushing and shoving erupted Thursday among hundreds waiting in line for ice in the southern city of Ponce. Police intervened.

A swollen river rushed Thursday through the Eureka Shrimp Co. farm and factory near Toa Baja, just outside San Juan, washing away thousands of shrimp. Traffic backed up down coastal Highway 165 as people abandoned their cars to net the crustaceans.

Those lucky enough to have water in Puerto Rico often had a mud-colored liquid emerge from the tap. Residents endured long lines in up to 90-degree heat for such essentials as ice and drinking water.

``No one has ice. Everywhere you look there are signs saying, `No ice. Don’t even ask!‴ said Maribel Gonzalez, in line at San Juan’s City Ice Plant.

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