Apprehensive Virgin Islanders tried to sleep Tuesday night knowing that a freakish major hurricane was only hours away and bearing down on them.
Their unexpected crisis will come late Wednesday morning. By that time, Hurricane Lenny either will have struck the small islands straight on or will have slid off to the south and east of the territory.
As of 10 p.m. AST Tuesday, all the projected tracks for Lenny have it striking the islands a direct blow. As of the same time, however, Lenny had not turned toward the northeast as soon as predicted, offering some hope the Virgin Islands—or at least the northern islands of St. Thomas and St. John—might escape the full wrath of the rogue hurricane packing winds of 115 MPH.
Ominous….major hurricane….dangerous in its differences, all were phrases used by the weather experts to describe Lenny.
The major difference was that the category three hurricane was coming from the west, not from the east, not across the Atlantic as did all major hurricanes that have hit the Virgin Islands in this century. Lenny instead formed deep in the Western Caribbean just two days ago and unexpectedly set off eastward, gathering strength as it moved.
Another difference was its emergence so late in the year. Four weeks ago, Virgin Islanders celebrated the traditional end of the 1999 hurricane season, and put away the plywood sheets they use to board up their windows.
Hurricane forecasters admitted they had no good past data on this kind of hurricane to feed into their computers.
It’s a total freak, said one.
The forecasters warned of yet another difference between Lenny and hurricanes that come west across the Atlantic. Lenny’s strongest winds will be in the southeast quadrant of the storm, instead of the northwest quadrant, they said.
They also warned that the harbors where boaters traditionally hide their craft from hurricanes might be dangerously exposed to Lenny’s winds.
Meanwhile, the Virgin Islands prepared themselves for whatever the morning brings. Col. Gene Walker, director of the Virgin Islands Territory Emergency Managemen Administration (VITEMA) talked by telephone Tuesday night to the mainland cable TV channel, The Weather Channel, and said his agency was prepared for the worst.
Hurricane shelters were open. Streets were deserted except for emergency vehicles, because of a 9 p.m. AST curfew imposed by Gov. Charles W. Turnbull. The giant harbor on St. Thomas was empty of ships; two giant cruise ships fled earlier in the day. All ferry service between islands was suspended.
The territory’s two airports shut down, although the St. Thomas airport remained open until 10 p.m. to accommodate an American Airlines jet coming from Miami. That plane discharged its passengers, including a small advance team from the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), and then fled back to Miami.


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