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Hortense Pummels Third Island, Takes Aim at U.S.

September 12, 1996| From Associated Press

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Hortense smashed the island of Grand Turk with torrents of rain and 90-mph winds Wednesday as it picked up speed and headed toward the United States, leaving 14 dead in its wake.

It was the third direct strike in two days for Hortense, which pounded Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.

President Clinton declared Puerto Rico a disaster area Wednesday, making federal aid available to those affected by the hurricane.

Hortense had sustained winds of 110 mph Wednesday night--with gusts to 120 mph--but was expected to lose strength overnight as it passed through the Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

At 11 p.m. EDT, the center of the storm was churning northwest at 9 mph through the Atlantic toward the Bahamas, passing 50 miles northeast of the Turks and Caicos. Hurricane force winds extended outward for 60 miles.

The hurricane hit Grand Turk at 2 p.m. EDT, lashing the capital of the British island chain with gusts up to 90 mph while churning up the Atlantic Ocean with 105-mph winds. Because telephone lines were down on the island, it was impossible to determine whether there were any deaths or injuries.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami said there was a slight chance the hurricane would cross the Bahamas and come within 65 miles of West Palm Beach and Fort Pierce on Florida's east coast Friday.

But forecasters think it's more likely a weather trough in the mid-Atlantic states will keep the hurricane offshore, pushing the storm north and possibly targeting the Northeast and New England by Sunday.

Search helicopters found four more bodies Wednesday in Puerto Rico, where afternoon thunderstorms threatened more of the flash floods and mudslides responsible for most of the 12 deaths in this U.S. commonwealth.

Authorities in the Dominican Republic found two bodies Wednesday, bringing the death toll for the two islands to 14, half of them children. Many others were missing and presumed drowned.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, relentless rain had the victims of Hurricane Fran wondering if their nightmare would ever end.

In Goldsboro, the Neuse River, which runs for 180 miles from the central part of the state on its way to the southern coast, was expected to rise 13 feet above its banks by today, just shy of a 1929 record.

More than 1,000 people were told to leave their homes. Roads across the state were closed because of the high waters; creeks and rivers surged over their banks all over eastern counties.

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