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Armed Mainland Forces Patrol Streets of St. Croix

September 22, 1989 GMT

CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands (AP) _ U.S. mainland forces carrying shotguns patrolled St. Croix on Thursday to stop looting that has frightened islanders and tourists in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo.

In Washington, a top Pentagon official said the American forces found ″chaos and near anarchy″ upon arrival in this popular U.S. resort, but the White House later said the situation was improving.

The Marine Radio Band, monitored on nearby St. Thomas, said two looters had been shot in St. Croix, the largest and most populous island of the chain. However, there was no word of their condition or independent confirmation.

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The latest forces arriving from the mainland joined 100 U.S. marshals and FBI agents that the U.S. attorney general ordered to the island.

On Thursday, dozens of marshals with shotguns were posted in front of the downtown federal building, while others patrolled the streets on foot.

One woman checking her destroyed yacht screamed insults at marshals when they aimed weapons at her, apparently mistaking her for a looter.

″Go after the bloody criminals, not the honest citizens 3/8″ she shouted.

Territorial Sen. Holland Redfield said that in many cases, supermarkets gave people permission to take the food because it was spoiling. He said only a few looters were hardcore criminals.

People were reported carrying guns after widespread looting convulsed the island, which still lacks water, power and telephone service in the wake of Hugo’s wrath.

There were new reports Thursday that looting was rampant too on neighboring St. Thomas, the second most populous of the U.S. Virgin Islands and also a popular tourist site for Americans.

Hugo damaged virtually every building on St. Croix, an island of 53,000 about 70 miles east of Puerto Rico. Authorities reported one drowning, and hundreds were reported injured and thousands homeless.

Chief Warrant Officer Layton Timmons of the Virgin Islands National Guard, who was at the airport watching mainland forces disembark, said there were only 900 guardsmen in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

He acknowledged that the Coast Guard had videotaped some guardsmen who had taken part in looting.

″When two people start looting, the whole Guard gets the wrap,″ Thomas said. ″Don’t condemn the organization. I don’t loot.″

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By late Thursday, it appeared most unprotected stores had been sacked and there appeared to be little left to loot.

The Coast Guard on Wednesday began evacuating to Puerto Rico all people who feared for their safety. A C-146 transport plane with 70 aboard, mostly tourists, arrived late Wednesday at old Ramey Air Force Base in Agua Dilla, about 75 miles west of San Juan.

Coast Guard officials expected to bring up to 200 more people from St. Croix on Thursday.

John Curren, a writer from Washington, D.C., said after stepping off the plane that mobs had ″established the law of the revolver″ by shooting and breaking into stores.

On St. Croix, Lt. Col. Ned Longsworth, spokesman for the 18th Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg, N.C., said his unit’s mission is to assist local civilian authorities in restoring order and protecting public and private property.

″We will stay until the mission is accomplished,″ he said.

In Miami, weary residents and tourists who arrived Thursday from St. Croix said they armed themselves with makeshift weapons and watched in horror as looters rampaged through the island.

Drew Simpson of Toronto told of forming a ″dynamic team″ with several dozen others who took refuge in a hotel outside of Christiansted.

He said they used machetes to sharpen flag poles into spears and blocked roads to the hotels with trees and debris because of fears of potential violence.

″Once it became dark, you really got spooked,″ he said, describing hearing weapons fire. But he and others said they were not attacked by looters.

The first contingent of U.S. military personnel landed at 7:40 a.m. EDT on the island and moved quickly to establish a mobile control tower and prepare the airfield for the arrival of 1,105 military police, said Lt. Cmdr. Ned Lundquist, a Pentagon spokesman.

By late afternoon Thursday, five aircraft carrying a total of 230 people and 105 tons of cargo had arrived on St. Croix. Three more aircraft were en route with 120 people and 40 additional tons of cargo, Pentagon officials said.

Longsworth said the rest of the soldiers were to arrive later Thursday and Friday. He said most of the units consist of military police.

″Martial law has not been declared. We are just here to assist local authorities. We are authorized to make arrests only in the total absence of local authorities,″ Longsworth said.

By late Thursday, the helmeted, heavily armed soldiers, equipped with flak jackets and backpacks, were still at the airport with only the federal marshals deployed downtown.

Harry Brandon, head of the FBI in San Juan, said the FBI agents and federal marshals will ″help local authorities get back on their feet.″ He said the FBI’s first priority was to stop the looting.

″The looting is still going on,″ Brandon said. ″I think that by the end of the day, things will begin to return to normal.″

In Washington, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said, ″The troops are having an obvious impact in controlling the looting and other lawlessness associated with the destruction. It is impossible to say at this point how long they will have to be there.″

He said, ″The local officials of course are still in charge of law enforcement there.″

Another military spokesman, Fred Hoffman, said the troops had encountered problems landing on St. Croix because the small airfield was crowded and there were no night lights. Planes overturned by the storm littered the airport.

Two guided missile carriers, the Stephen Groves and the Clifton Sprague, have been moved into the area as a precaution, Hoffman said.

The troops, the first active duty military personnel sent onto the nation’s streets in 20 years, were ordered by President Bush Wednesday night.

Adm. William J. Crowe, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said earlier Thursday the troops had been issued rifles and told to shoot if necessary to defend themselves.

All told, the troops would include 635 military police from Fort Bragg, N.C., and 470 military police from companies in Fort Polk, La.; Fort Hood, Texas, and Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Generally, the National Guard is summoned to restore order in civil disturbances. But presidents are allowed to use federal troops by declaring an emergency.

The last time federal troops were used to suppress riots was in 1968 in Washington, D.C., and other cities after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., administration officials said. President Reagan authorized the use of troops in 1987 to handle prison riots in Atlanta, but they were never deployed.