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Hugo Picks Up Speed En Route To Coast; Bush Orders Troops

September 21, 1989 GMT

MIAMI (AP) _ Hurricane Hugo quickened its pace toward the Eastern Seaboard on Wednesday as residents gathered supplies and made evacuation plans, while violence and looting broke out on the shattered islands in the storm’s wake.

President Bush ordered Army troops to St. Croix of the U.S. Virgin Islands after National Guardsmen and police reportedly joined prison escapees and others in wild looting. Armed Coast Guard crewmen also went ashore to help restore order.

Attorney General Dick Thornburgh ordered 100 U.S. marshals and FBI agents to the island, and Coast Guard cutters evacuated frightened tourists and residents. Bush also authorized troops to help hurricane-damaged Puerto Rico.

Forecasters issued a hurricane watch from St. Augustine, Fla., to Cape Hatteras, N.C., urging coastal residents to begin taking precautions. Hugo picked up speed over open water and could come ashore late Thursday or early Friday.

″I think they’re looking at this one with a bit of respect,″ city spokesman Pat Dowling said in Myrtle Beach, S.C., as radio and TV advisories warned: ″Remember the people of Puerto Rico.″

Since Sunday, Hugo has killed at least 25 people, left thousands homeless and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage as it slashed through the northeastern Caribbean with wind of 125 to 150 mph.

Chaos reigned on St. Croix, as police and National Guardsmen joined machete-armed mobs on a post-Hugo looting spree. Gunshots were fired, and ham radio operators heard reports that inmates had either escaped or been released because of prison damage and were looting.

Tourists pleaded with reporters landing on the island to take them off.

″They said, ’Please get food 3/8 Please get water 3/8 Please help us 3/8 They’re looting. We’ve seen police looting. We’ve seen National Guard looting. There’s no law and order here,‴ said Gary Williams, a reporter for the San Juan daily El Nuevo Dia.

The U.S. Coast Guard had six ships in the area and sent armed crewmen from the cutter Bear ashore to help restore order.

″Our shore party went ashore and basically determined there was a complete breakdown of authority. There’s a very high indication that innocent people are going to get hurt in an act of violence there,″ Lt. Jeff Karonis said in Miami.

The crew was evacuating ″all people from the island who fear for their safety,″ the Coast Guard said in a statement. A cargo plane was ready to supplement the evacuation if needed.

Tourists sat on the porch of the King Christian Hotel, protected by hotel employees carrying shotguns.

″It was horrendous,″ said Rose Hertzog of Northampton, Pa., who waited out the storm in a hotel laundry room. ″I thought we were going to die.

Thornburgh ordered the 100 marshals and FBI agents to protect federal officials and property, as well as help bolster local law enforcement, said David Runkel, a Justice Department spokesman in Washington. A small team of FBI agents was sent in first to set up a command post.

The White House said Alexander Farrelly, governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, asked Bush to authorize use of troops to restore order on St. Croix, but Farrelly on Wednesday night denied making that request.

Bush on Wednesday declared the U.S. Virgin Islands a disaster area and a White House spokesman said a similar declaration was expected soon for Puerto Rico, which suffered widespread damage.

The Coast Guard sent cutters to St. Thomas to pick up personnel and their families whose homes were destroyed. It also was evacuating 200 American medical students at Montserrat, a British colony where Hugo damaged nearly 90 percent of the homes.

Federal relief shipments laden with supplies and rescue workers from Florida, South Carolina, West Virginia and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, went to Puerto Rico, while British and French forces helped Montserrat and Guadeloupe.

At 3 a.m. EDT Thursday, Hugo’s center was about 450 miles southeast of Savannah, Ga., at 28.2 degrees north latitude and 75.2 degrees west longitude, and was moving northwest at 17 mph, up from 12 mph earlier in the day.

Hugo’s wind speed also rose from 105 to 110 mph Wednesday, but forecasters said little further strengthening was likely.

Forecasters said Hugo’s path made residents from Savannah, Ga., to Charleston, S.C., most likely to be in harm’s way, but they were delaying issuing hurricane warnings until they could make better projections.

Bob Sheets, director of the National Hurricane Center, said officials didn’t want to spur ″a cry-wolf syndrome″ by triggering premature evacuation of the resort and retiree communities. But forecasters said they hoped U.S. residents learned from Hugo’s Caribbean rampage.

″When those islands got pounded like they did, that’s remarkable,″ forecaster Martin Nelson said of the relatively low death toll. ″We gave them a lot of warning, and they apparently took the warnings.″

U.S. coastal residents have enough time to prepare, he said.

″Let’s hope they are,″ Nelson said. ″If later on, they say ‘Boy, you sure got that wrong,’ that’s OK. We’d rather that happen than have people wake up at 2 a.m. and find a hurricane coming.″

South Carolina Gov. Carroll Campell put state law enforcement agencies on alert. ’All we can do is to watch now and to wait,″ he said.

In Charleston, the historic City Hall was boarded up and school children were told to stay home Thursday.

Officials said coastal residents seemed to be taking the right steps, such as storing emergency supplies and buying materials for boarding up.

″They’re buying me out of all my candles, tape, flashlights, propane fuel, oil and lamps,″ said Tim Brindley, merchandise manager of K mart in Mount Pleasant, S.C.

″I see a lot of people buying water and canned goods like pork and beans. It’s been pretty steady,″ said Bryan Raleigh, manager of the Market Street Food Lion in Wilmington, N.C., where nearby Carolina Beach suffered $90 million in damages when hit by Hurricane Diana in 1984.

Some took extra precautions.

″We’re going to church a lot,″ said Dean S. Phillips, town manager in Bethany Beach, Del.

The Navy sent its Charleston-based ships to sea to avoid Hugo, while crews were called Wednesday to their ships at Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville for a possible move out.

″Like the Boy Scouts, we’re prepared,″ said Chief Petty Officer Art Riccio.

Adminstrators at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind sent home 400 children living in dormitories. ″The decision was to assume the worst and plan accordingly,″ said Mary Jane Dillon, a school spokeswoman.

Bahamians, meanwhile, watched as the hurricane moved away with little impact.

″It’s a great sigh of relief for all of us in the Bahamas,″ said meteorologist Michael Stubbs in Nassau. ″Most people want to be able to enjoy the sea and sunshine here, and now they can.″

Meanwhile, forecasters said Tropical Storm Iris was being weakened because of its proximity to Hugo, but could cause more problems for the Hugo-hit islands.

″Satellite pictures show an area of thunderstorms extends south of the center into the extreme northeastern Caribbean,″ forecaster Gil Clark said. ″Unfortunately, this activity will be moving westward over an area that was struck by Hurricane Hugo just three days ago.″

At 10:30 p.m., Iris was near latitude 22.0 north and longitude 64.0 west, or 250 miles north-northeast of Puerto Rico. Its winds were down to 45 mph as the storm moved west-northwest at around 12 mph.