Weather News

Hugo takes aim at Puerto Rico

Damaged homes on the east coast of Guadeloupe, after Hurricane Hugo hit the area. Hugo reportedly killed five and left at least 10,000 homeless on the Caribbean island. (AP Photo)
Damaged homes on the east coast of Guadeloupe, after Hurricane Hugo hit the area. Hugo reportedly killed five and left at least 10,000 homeless on the Caribbean island. (AP Photo) ASSOCIATED PRESS

More from the series

Hurricane Hugo coverage from The State: Sept. 17 - Sept. 24, 1989

Read more stories from The State’s original reporting of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. From Hugo’s collision with the Caribbean islands and Puerto Rico to its catastrophic landfall near Charleston, The State kept readers up-to-date with vital news about the event that turned into the worst storm South Carolina has ever seen.

Expand All

This story was first published in The State on September 18, 1989.

Hurricane Hugo smashed into the U.S. Virgin Islands and was on a collision course with Puerto Rico late Sunday after ripping through the Caribbean with 140 mph winds and leaving at least six people dead.

Some 80 people were injured on the French island of Guadeloupe and 4,000 were left homeless, French officials said.

The region’s most powerful storm in a decade was expected to roar into Puerto Rico early today. The government mobilized the National Guard, and residents rushes for last-minute supplies and taped and boarded windows.

At 9 p.m. EDT. Hugo’s center was located near latitude 17.2 degrees north and longitude 64.3 west, about 140 miles east-southeast of San Juan, said the National Weather Service in Florida. The storm slowed slightly from 12 mph to 10 mph, the Weather Service said.

Late Sunday, hurricane-force winds of nearly 100 mph ripped away roofs and knocked out power on St. Thomas and St. Croix, about 70 miles east of Puerto Rico, officials said. Those two islands have most of the Virgin Islands’ population.

Officials said stores in the St. Croix town of Christiansted were heavily damaged and there reports of looting.

National Guard Adjutant Gen. Robert Moorehead said 1,000 people were evacuated to rescue shelters in St. Croix. The Virgin Islands’ total population is 106,000.

Jesse Moore, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Florida, said it was too early to tell if the storm “will even hit the United States (mainland). The closest we can forecast it is to be off the southeastern Bahamas by Wednesday. After that, it’s anybody’s guess.”

Hugo is expected to be in the lower Bahamas by Wednesday afternoon, Tim Hawks of the National Weather Service’s Columbia bureau said. When the storm reaches that position, about 200 miles from Nassau, it could move north from any point on the U.S. coast below Cape Hatteras, N.C., or it could move west over Cuba, he said.

The storm caused widespread damage early Sunday as it passed near Guadeloupe. Damage was also reporter on the islands of Martinique, Antigua and Dominica.

Guadeloupe state radio said five people were killed on that island. In Paris, French officials said up to give people had been killed there. Neither report gave further details.

Gabrielle Carabin, mayor of the village of Le Moule on the northwestern coast of Guadeloupe, said in an interview on the island’s Radio Caraibe Internationale that two village residents were killed. She did not elaborate.

In the central Puerto Rican town of Utuado, a man was electrocuted when he touched a power line while removing a television antenna from his roof to prepare for the storm, police said. He was identified as Antonio Alago Gonzalez, 51.

In San Juan, the Port Authority announced that it closed the Munoz Marin International Airport to all flights at 6 p.m. It said all international carriers had removed their planes from Puerto Rico except for one American Airlines A300 left behind for emergencies.

The Port Authority also said cruise ships scheduled to arrive in San Juan had been routed to other destinations.

A Sunday morning weather service bulletin said: “If the eye of Hurricane Hugo moves across Puerto Rico as forecast, we expect a 50-mile wide path of extensive to extreme damage to occur.”

In Washington, Brian Ruberry, a spokesman for the American Red Cross, said late Sunday that based on projections, the storm could leave up to 250,000 people homeless on Puerto Rico. The total population there is 3.3 million.

Civil defense officials said up to 15,000 people could be evacuated from flood-prone areas of western Puerto Rico and hundreds had already been moved into a sports stadium in Mayaguez, the island’s third largest city.

National Guardsmen and volunteers drove through San Juan, the capital, on Sunday issuing emergency instructions over loudspeakers.

Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon flew over the island by helicopter Sunday morning and told reporters later: “We are as prepared as we could be.”

In a statement on the emergency broadcasting system, the governor said waves 15 to 20 feet high were expected. He appealed to coastal residents not living in sturdy homes to move to shelters in hundreds of churches, schools and other public buildings.

Reports indicated that the island of Guadeloupe, the most southerly of the Leeward Islands, was the hardest hit of the string of islands forming a 600-mile arc from the Leewards to the Greater Antilles.

Jocelyne Vandvurdenghe, a French government official in Martinique, said 80 people were reported injured in Guadeloupe.

Hugo slammed into Guadeloupe, which has a population of 337,000, shortly after midnight, downing power lines and blacking out the island’s 30,700 telephones, state radio and television and telex service.

Officials said many houses and buildings were damaged. The eye of the storm passed over St. Francois, a major tourist area.

The major of the village of St. Francois, Ernest Moutoussamy, said on Radio Caribe Internationale that “There’s nothing left of St. Francois.”

“Aside from a few houses, almost all the rest were destroyed,” he said, adding that several tourist hotels, notably the Meridien, suffered serious damage.

In Paris, a plane was sent Sunday with 60 rescue workers and emergency supplies for Guadeloupe, and two more were standing by waiting for Caribbean airports to reopen.

Catholic Air announced in Paris it was sending clothes, water, food and blankets in coordination with the Red Cross.

Louis Le Pensec, French minister of overseas territories, told a news conference that his government will provide quick disaster relief funds to those who lost property.