Caribbean Storm Waves Threaten Islands

March 21, 2008

An Atlantic storm threatened to pummel Puerto Rico and other islands with waves as high as 30 feet (9 meters) beginning late Wednesday, forcing tourists and other Holy Week vacationers to seek alternatives to the beach.

The storm spawned tornadoes and thunderstorms across the southern United States last weekend before gaining strength over the open water, said Israel Matos, director of the U.S. Caribbean territory’s National Weather Service.

“It’s not a tsunami, but we need to take the same precaution,” he said, warning the storm could damage coastal roads and low-lying homes.

Authorities in Puerto Rico closed the San Juan harbor Wednesday and canceled ferry service to the tiny islands of Vieques and Culebra. In the Dominican Republic, popular beaches along the northern coast were closed through Friday.

The large low-pressure system was expected to bring the heaviest swells from late Wednesday through early Thursday, with the occasional 30-foot (9-meter) wave expected, said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Jim Tunstall in San Juan. “This is not a storm that surfers and others that typically enjoy relatively heavy surf need to go out in,” he said.

Fishermen across the eastern Caribbean have been advised to remain on land until Saturday, said Andria Grosvenor, of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency in Barbados.

With swimming out of the question at beaches in northern Puerto Rico, hotels are turning to movies, games and spa treatments to entertain visitors, said Clarisa Jimenez, president of the island’s Association of Hotels and Tourism.

“It is truly a shame they cannot enjoy the island’s biggest attraction,” she said.

Puerto Rico sent cargo ships from its port ahead of schedule to beat the storm and about 300 families in the northern coastal town of Loiza, east of San Juan, were temporarily relocated as a precaution, said Fernando Bonilla, Puerto Rico’s port authority director.

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