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Hurricane Hortense Gives Puerto Rico a Beating

Weather: Strong winds, rain and high waves rake island. Meanwhile, officials survey Fran's damage in North Carolina. The death toll rises to 34.

September 10, 1996| From Times Wire Services

PONCE, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Hortense battered Puerto Rico on Monday night, churning up high waves, downing trees with strong gusts and leaving thousands without power.

Torrential rain flooded low-lying communities and raised fears of mudslides in the mountains.

Forecasters said Hortense, the eighth storm and third hurricane of the Atlantic season, was volatile and dangerous. The storm, with sustained winds of 80 mph, was 40 miles southeast of Ponce on Monday night. It was expected to cross the island this morning, bringing up to 12 inches of rain and a strong ocean storm surge.

Forecasters said the hurricane was expected to strengthen and could threaten Florida by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, officials who surveyed parts of North Carolina on Monday expressed disbelief over the extensive destruction left by Hurricane Fran and said it would take time to add up the damage. That storm came ashore at Cape Fear on Thursday and ravaged the state with 120-mph winds as it pushed northwest.

North Carolina Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. said he had not been given an estimate on damage to property and farms, although the State Emergency Response Team earlier announced projections for housing losses at $900 million and building losses at $30 million.

"This is the worst disaster we've had in this century," Hunt told a news conference.

Hunt was joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, who reiterated the government's pledge to help hurricane victims with food assistance and emergency farm loans.

North Carolina corn, cotton and soybeans were damaged by Fran's fury. Much of the state's top crop, tobacco, spoiled in barns when lack of electricity interrupted the curing process.

Fran left at least 34 people dead, and a 17-year-old boy remained missing two days after going swimming in a swollen Raleigh creek.

In Washington, the Potomac River began to recede, but not before the flooding formed traffic bottlenecks around the National Mall. Water covered main roads used to reach many government offices.

President Clinton toured the surging flood waters of the Potomac by helicopter Monday. He flew 20 miles along the muddy river separating Washington from Maryland and Virginia, above a waterlogged park where he sometimes jogs and over the flooded streets of the Old Town district of Alexandria, Va.

The 27-minute tour also took Clinton over the historic Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and towpath, which was heavily damaged in storms last winter and had recently been repaired. The canal incurred more flood damage.

Commuter trains that run close to the river were canceled, and traffic was snarled because of flooded streets and highways.

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