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Thursday, September 7, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Hurricane Luis Kills At Least 13 People -- Puerto Rico Hit, Storm May Spare East Coast

Seattle Times News Services

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Hurricane Luis caused more than $400 million in damage and killed at least 13 people in the eastern Caribbean before veering north and sparing the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico its full fury.

Luis tore up streets and brought down so many telephone lines that it was impossible to confirm unofficial reports that the 700-mile-wide storm had killed dozens more elsewhere in the Caribbean.

Today, the storm had strengthened to 130 mph in the Atlantic as it moved northwest at about 9 mph.

It is not expected to endanger the mainland United States, but the National Hurricane Center said residents of Bermuda should keep an eye on the storm.

Heavy-surf advisories were in effect today along much of the East Coast from Florida to the mid-Atlantic states, the center reported.

French officials reported late yesterday that the storm killed nine people on St. Martin, and dozens more were missing. That raised the death toll to 13 in one of the most powerful storms to hit the Caribbean this century, and surpassed the 10 killed in the devastation of Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

Agence France-Press, the French news agency, carried a dramatic report from St. Martin, quoting an unnamed police officer as saying:

"You wouldn't recognize the island. Most residents have lost, at least, the roofs from their homes. Belongings are strewn all over the place, the Haitian quarter has just disappeared, the marina doesn't exist any more, some of the big hotels have been practically leveled, all the boats have capsized . . . the situation is catastrophic."

The storm dealt a crushing blow to the northern Leeward Islands. Two hotels on Antigua were swept out to sea while a hospital was damaged by winds clocked at 146 mph before the measuring device blew away. Although telephone lines were down and electricity cut off, ham radio operators and cellular phone callers reported severe damage to at least half the buildings on the island, a former British colony with a population of about 68,000 people.

Some minor looting was reported on Antigua, and troops sealed off the downtown area.

Britain said its warship Southampton, which had been standing by off Montserrat, where a volcano eruption threatened, had been dispatched to the stricken island.

Other hard-hit islands include Anguilla, St. Kitts, Nevis and Barbuda.

Although the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico seemed to lie in Luis' path, the storm jogged to the north, and those islands were spared the hurricane's full fury. Two people in Puerto Rico were reported killed while rushing to prepare for the storm's arrival. Two others were drowned by high seas in Guadeloupe and Dominica.

Although Luis was fully 500 miles wide and generated sustained winds of 130 mph when it brushed by Puerto Rico's northeast corner, the eye of the storm stayed well off shore from the densely populated U.S. commonwealth.

Moderate damage was also reported in St. Thomas and on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Compiled from Associated Press, USA Today and Los Angeles Times reports.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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