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Hurricane Misses Army Island

A weakening Hurricane Dora churned west into the central Pacific Ocean after passing near tiny Johnston Island and its chemical weapons incinerator run by the United States military.

No one was on the island when Hurricane Dora passed about 75 miles south of the atoll Tuesday night. All 1,100 military and civilian personnel had been evacuated to Hawaii, 825 miles to the northeast.

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Winds of only 25 mph to 30 mph wth gusts up to 45 mph extended from the storm over the island, said National Weather Service forecaster Hans Rosendal. The storm earlier had sustained winds of 85 mph as it headed toward the island, part of a four-island atoll that is a U.S. possession.

"It was too far away and too weak to give the island much of a lashing," Rosendal said.

Air Force planes were to fly over the island Wednesday to assess any damage, said Army spokesman John Fairbank.

Tanks and lines in the incinerator were closed, and remaining weapons were secured in earth-covered bunkers.

"The facility was designed, built and maintained to withstand tropical storms. It is extremely safe from mishaps," said Army Maj. Bruce Foreman, executive officer of the 185-member Army security and support force on the island.

The incinerator has not been in operation since July, when the last of some mustard gas was burned, he said. It is in the process of being cleaned and reconfigured for the next disposal project. The facility is scheduled to be closed next year.

Flooding was a chief concern because the atoll has a high point of only 7 feet. Waves of up to 12 feet were forecast on the island, which is two miles long and a quarter-mile wide.

The other three islands are a national wildlife refuge and home to about 150,000 sea birds, which are now in the reproduction process. Hatchlings and recently-laid eggs were not expected to survive, said Robert Smith, manager of the Pacific island ecological services office.

However, after Hurricane John swept through the atoll five years ago, city terns, which make up 80 percent of the local bird population, recolonized within days, said Dave Johnson of the Pacific Islands National Wildlife Refuge.

The 1994 hurricane caused up to $15 million in damage and forced a one-month shutdown of the incinerator.

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