Update: Omar Spares Caribbean Ports

October 17, 2008
(5 p.m.) -- Tropical Storm Omar has further weakened, and is heading northeast into the open Atlantic. Maximum sustained winds have fallen to 60 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. Omar is currently 775 miles east of Bermuda, moving at 16 m.p.h. clip. This will be our last report.

Many Caribbean islanders appear to be breathing a sigh of relief this morning. Hurricane Omar sliced through the Northern Leeward Islands during the early a.m. hours as a Category Three storm, with winds of 125 miles per hour -- but the eye passed between St. Maarten and the British Virgin Islands, leaving popular cruise destinations relatively unscathed.

Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Princess, Holland America had all altered itineraries for their ships in anticipation of the storm, and it appears that the lines won't be kept away for long.

Initial reports indicate that damage to the islands has been relatively minimal, with news focusing on power outages, flooding, and downed trees and power lines. The Associated Press reported a single death: A man in Culebra, a small Puerto Rican island off the western coast of the mainland, collapsed and died of a heart attack while putting up storm shutters.

St. Croix was bracing for a direct hit, but a late change of course spared the island -- which ultimately felt winds of just 48 m.p.h., according to the AP. Nevertheless, extensive damage to boats in Christiansted harbor has been reported, as well as downed trees and power poles.

A few residents of St. Thomas posting on Stormcarib.com are reporting that damage to island is limited -- there are tree limbs and leaves on the ground, moderate flooding, but little else.

In Tortola, parts of the island received heavy winds and rain, and there have been reports of electricity outages, some flooding and mud slides.

Omar brought heavy rains to Antigua, which resulted in serious flooding and power outages.

The storm did not result in any significant damage to its infrastructure or hotel sector in St. Maarten, according St. Maarten's government. Damage appears to be limited to beach erosion and scattered debris, and the established tourist sites, attractions and restaurants are all fully functional. Princess Juliana International Airport is scheduled to reopen tomorrow.

Stay tuned as new information surfaces.

--by Dan Askin, Assistant Editor

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