In its rampage through the Caribbean, Hurricane Luis tore apart more than houses, yachts and lives. It ripped an island in two.
As the center of Luis passed over Barbuda on Tuesday, it churned up 10-foot waves that breached a narrow inlet and severed a small northeast sliver of the island, part of the nation of Antigua and Barbuda.
The Daily Observer newspaper on Antigua reported Saturday that the coral reef that makes up Barbuda was cut into six pieces. The storm wrecked 95 percent of the buildings on the island, and battered its infant tourist industry.
The town of Codrington, where all of Barbuda’s 1,500 residents live, was flooded, and sea water contaminated the water supply, the newspaper reported.
All the hotels on Barbuda, 280 miles east of San Juan, also were severely damaged: the Coco Point Lodge, where rooms went for $400 a night; the “K” Club, which had its own golf course; Pink Sands; Palmetto and Sunset View.
The island was trying to develop itself as a tourist resort, especially for snorkellers and skin-divers attracted to the 60 shipwrecks on the reef.
While Barbuda’s plight was perhaps most dramatic, the suffering on the islands around it was no less real.
As the storm churned toward Bermuda, the official death toll on five islands rose to 16 when two more bodies were found on St. Maarten, the Dutch-administered half of St. Martin.
Some 65 percent of the buildings on Antigua were destroyed, and the Red Cross said the hospital ran out of water on Saturday.
“Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” host Robin Leach, who has a home in Antigua, coordinated an aid shipment carrying 66,000 pounds of relief supplies from AmeriCares, based in Canaan, Conn.
The island of St. Martin, only days ago a pristine vacation spot for wealthy tourists, was a jumble of ripped-apart yachts, houseboats and shantytowns. Rescuers were searching for dozens of people believed missing.
Damage in St. Martin was extensive. Telephone and power poles toppled by 130-mph winds and nine-foot surf were still down. Hundreds of yachts and houseboats were tossed across piers and beaches. Jetties and airports were trashed, roads washed away and trees uprooted.
The Netherlands administers the better-developed side of the island, called St. Maarten. The other side, St. Martin, is French territory.
Dutch authorities closed the border Friday, imposing a dusk-todawn curfew to prevent looting and allowing only relief planes to land. American Airlines began flying residents only to the island on commercial flights Saturday.
Officials also turned back chartered helicopters with reporters on board, making it impossible to confirm the hurricane’s toll. Authorities told some American reporters that they were tired of the negative publicity.
Dutch officials conceded Saturday that many more people may have died than the official death tolls - which were conflicting - indicate.
“The figure could rise,” said Jan Meijer, a Dutch government spokesman in The Hague, the Netherlands.
“We know that a very large percentage of the houses are severely damaged,” he said. “We are not sure what we will find under the mess.”
French authorities could confirm only a total of eight deaths on the island. Radio France Outre-Mers put the death toll at 30. The Dutch Red Cross said the toll on the Dutch side had reached seven.
“Our priority is not to count the dead, but to help the living,” said a man who answered the telephone at a St. Martin police station.
“Our priority is to find lodging for 2,000 homeless, medication and care for the wounded, and to clean up this mess,” he said, refusing to give his name.
The U.S. consul general from the island of Curacao, Buddy Williams, was in St. Martin on Saturday and two consular officials from Washington were on their way, said Elaine McDevitt, a State Department spokeswoman in Washington.
She said U.S. officials had no confirmed reports of Americans injured or killed in the storm, and she was unaware of any plan to evacuate Americans from St. Martin.
In addition to crushed buildings and ruined crops, Luis also could badly hurt the region’s crucial tourist industries. The damage to Antigua and St. Maarten prompted two cruise lines to take those stops off their itineraries.
Norwegian Cruise Line said its ships the Norway and the Seaward will no longer stop at the islands, and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line also said it would pass them over until the damage is repaired.
Luis accelerated on Saturday, and was 225 miles west-southwest of Bermuda, moving north at 23 mph with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph. It was expected to turn north-east on Sunday and accelerate while its winds weaken.
In Bermuda, residents prepared for their second pounding in a month. Many had candles and canned food left over from Hurricane Felix, which brushed past on Aug. 15, causing $2.5 million in damage.
The National Weather Service posted a tropical storm warning. Major airlines canceled flights between Bermuda and North America, stranding about 1,000 tourists.
The storm was not expected to hit the U.S. mainland, but the National Weather Service warned of heavy surf and coastal flooding from Florida to southern New England.
MEMO: Cut in Spokane edition.