Dwarfing the island nations of the Caribbean with a 700-mile-wide maelstrom of wind and rain, Hurricane Luis destroyed homes and a hospital on two islands Tuesday and roared on toward the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Two storm-related fatalities were reported before the hurricane even reached Puerto Rico. Forecasters expect the storm to spare the East Coast of the United States and move northward from Puerto Rico into the Atlantic.
Several hotels were destroyed on Antigua and Barbuda, said Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Rossello, who talked by telephone with the islands’ prime minister, Lester Bird.
“The hospital there was destroyed as were many homes and buildings,” Rossello said. He said Bird asked him to send a mobile hospital to Antigua.
Frightened tourists and islanders jammed airport terminals in Antigua, Guadeloupe and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands as the hurricane neared. San Juan’s airport was calm.
Airports in the U.S. Virgin Islands closed at midday, and the last flight out of Puerto Rico left in the evening, hours before Luis was expected to arrive.
Forecasters expect Luis to miss the Atlantic seaboard, moving north and out to sea, but warn it could easily change course.
“It looks like all of the U.S. mainland will be spared. But, once again, this is an outlook,” said meteorologist Michelle Huber of the National Hurricane Center in Miami.