Hurricane Lenny demonstrated an ominous unreliability by stallling overnight in a location dangerously close to both St. Croix and St. Thomas.
At 6 a.m. AST Lenny — still a strong Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 145 miles mph — was sitting at latitude 17.8 north and longitude 63.6 west. That's just 55 miles east of St. Croix, which was heavily damaged when Lenny struck the island yesterday, and 80 miles southeast of St. Thomas, which was relatively undamaged yesterday.
And Lenny wasn't moving that much.
That's dangerous to the Virgin Islands because Lenny's hurricane-force winds extend outward as much as 60 miles from its center, and tropical storm winds another 100 miles or so.
Latest reports from St. Croix said that island's east end was still being battered by strong winds with gusts close to 100 mph.
If that wasn't enough, Lenny continues to dump rain on the islands, where the already saturated ground can't absorb it. This has led to fears of more flash floods.
The National Hurricane Center reacted to Lenny's stall by keeping the Virgin Islands under a formal hurricane warning. Gov. Charles W. Turnbull also reacted quickly. .
He went on the radio shortly after 6 a.m. to announce he was having second thoughts about his decision last night to lift the general curfew at noon Thursday. Unless the hurricane gets moving again away from the Virgin Islands, Turnbull is almost certain to put the curfew back into effect.
Turnbull also said he was postponing his plan to fly later this morning by helicopter to St. Croix to inspect the serious damage there. He was to have met there with Puerto Rico Governor Rossello, who was going to fly in from undamaged San Juan to offer aid from the commonwealth.
"Stay calm," Turnbull said to Virgin Islanders about the new weather development. "It's a very stressful situation."
Thursday was to have been a day of cleaning up. But the continued high winds and rain seemed certain to delay that. Public Works Commissioner Harold Thompson Jr. said Thursday morning that most roads on Saint Croix were clogged with trees and debris. He pleaded with residents to stay home.
There was still no definite word on damage to Hovensa's giant refinery on St. Croix's south shore. Amerada Hess, the parent company, shut down the refinery Tuesday to protect it against Lenny. A Hovensa spokesman said Thursday morning it appeared the refinery suffered only minor damage, but that a careful inspection would be carried out later in the day.
If the refinery were seriously damaged and had to remain closed, gasoline prices here and on the mainland would likely increase, according to financial analysts.
Meanwhile, many hurricane forecasters were perplexed by Lenny's slowdown. Most of their computer models predicted the hurricane would resume its path to the northeast Caribbean later today. But one sobering alternative had the rogue hurricane staying where it is for two or three days.
Lenny approached the Virgin Islands yesterday at 15 to 18 mph, slowed down to 9 mph as it ravaged the south coast of St. Croix, and then headed to the east and north, toward Sint Maarten. Then, during the night it stalled and now is described by weather forecasters as "drifting" to the east at a speed of only about 3 miles an hour.


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