US Virgin Islands - Hurricane Luis edged slowly away from the Caribbean yesterday, easing the threat to densely populated Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands after devastating Antigua and Barbuda.
Norman Gus Thomas, a spokesman for Antigua's Prime Minister, Lester Bird, said about 65 per cent of the buildings on the island of 65,000 residents had been severely damaged. "We've had a lot of damage.This was a mammoth hurricane compared to Hugo," he added, referring to the 1989 storm.
Hundreds of inhabitants were left homeless on Antigua by wind gusts clocked at up to 175 mph, according to Puerto Rico Governor, Pedro Rossello, who agreed to send emergency supplies. Reports were sketchy because telephone lines were down, but there were no initial reports of deaths on the twin island republic in the Lesser Antilles. The Caribbean News Agency reported two boys were injured by a collapsing roof.
Luis strengthened slightly as it crept to the north-west, away from the islands. Hurricane warnings for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands were replaced with tropical storm warnings. A hurricane warning remained in effect for the British Virgin Islands.
Forecasters warned of the potential for strong winds, heavy rain and flash floods on Puerto Rico's north coast, but it appeared the US territory of 3.5 million people would be spared the worst of the storm as the eye passed to the north.
"It's far enough away just to give them some gusty winds," Jerry Jarrell, a National Hurricane Centre forecaster, said .
Some of the flattened buildings in Antigua were at tourist resorts overlooking the island's barrier reef, a famed snorkeling area. Other hotels were flooded from rising seawater or blinding rain of more than 12 inches, according to amateur radio operators monitoring transmissions from Antigua.
A shipment of 5,000 tons of medical supplies was to be flown to Antigua from Trinidad, after the government managed to get word out that its hospital was badly damaged.
On Anguilla, a 35 square-mile island, houses were destroyed and airplanes were blown off the airport runway, Billy Penn, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Puerto Rico, said.