Ripping off roofs and doors and hurling lumber and trash cans through the air, Hurricane Bertha slammed into the Virgin Islands on Monday with torrential rains and winds that gusted to 103 mph.
The first hurricane of the Atlantic season powered over a string of northeastern Caribbean islands, growing to a 460-mile-wide menace as it hit St. Thomas - the main U.S. Virgin Island - and bypassed Puerto Rico.
While two surfers were reported missing in the storm, on the whole people on the islands that Bertha passed by Monday were relieved by the relatively light damage, compared to last year’s punishing Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn.
“I feel very fortunate,” said Tracy Booth of St. Thomas, although she added that her friends lost the roof of their house to the storm.
Bertha passed directly over St. Thomas but came no closer than about 45 miles to Puerto Rico. Thousands of people took shelter on the islands, emerging to find destruction - although extensive - far less damaging than they had feared.
Bertha headed northwest overnight toward the Turks and Caicos and the Bahamas and the Dominican Republic. Hurricane warnings were in effect for those islands, but were canceled for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.
Two surfers who challenged Bertha head-on were her first apparent victims. Lilton Jones, 35, of New York City drowned off Puerto Rico, and a second, unidentified surfer died in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Gov. Roy L. Schneider said.
Authorities also blamed the hurricane for two traffic deaths on Puerto Rico, in which a car ran off a rain-slick road and hit a tree.
The following fields overflowed: DATELINE = CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS