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Thursday, November 18, 1999 Published at 04:50 GMT

World: Americas

Hurricane batters Caribbean

Lenny has 145mph winds but is only moving at about 9mph

Hurricane Lenny has ripped through the eastern Caribbean with winds of up to 145mph.

Houses in coastal areas on the Leeward Islands have been swept away and there is widespread flooding.

[ image: Caribbean islands are being lashed by wind and rain]
Caribbean islands are being lashed by wind and rain
At least two people are missing after the storm passed over the Virgin Islands and British, French and Dutch territories nearby, where high tides caused extensive damage to homes, boats and public buildings.

The eye of the storm was about 70 miles (115 km) west-southwest of Dutch St. Maarten at 0400GMT on Thursday.

Michael Formosa: "It's got sustained winds of 145mph"
Flooding has also been reported in south-eastern areas of Puerto Rico, where the authorities are now warning of mudslides.

Lenny battered St Croix, one of three islands that make up the US Virgin Islands, where the 55,000 inhabitants were unprepared for the intensity of the storm.

[ image: The island of Aruba is already feeling the force of the hurricane]
The island of Aruba is already feeling the force of the hurricane
The hurricane rapidly strengthened from a category two to a strong category four as it closed in on St Croix.

In Grenada, roaring waves washed rows of homes into the sea at Charleston Harbour and in the tiny fishing town of Gouyave, the Caribbean News Agency [Cana] reported.

Scores of people were left homeless in St. Lucia when 20ft waves washed away their houses.

One Red Cross official told Cana: "People wept openly in the streets as they witnessed their homes being swept away by the high seas."

Hurricane warnings are in effect for most islands on the northeastern edge of the Caribbean Sea: including the US and British Virgin Islands, Dutch St Maarten, French St Martin, St Barthelemy, St Eustatius, Saba, Anguilla, St Kitts and Nevis, Montserrat, Antigua and Barbuda.

State of emergency

Lenny passed south of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday, veering north-east in the evening.

The storm has surprised forecasters because it formed so late in the hurricane season, which ends on 30 November, and is moving in an unusual direction - from west to east.

A state of emergency and evening curfew have been declared in the US Virgin Islands, and the US National Guard has been placed on alert.

In the nearby British Virgin Islands, schools, government offices and airports closed on Tuesday afternoon. Only nurses, doctors, police and essential workers remain.

Cruise ships docked in San Juan and in St Thomas headed out to sea in an attempt to escape the storm.

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Caribbean Hurricane page

US National Hurricane Centre

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