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Storm Jose Blusters Out

Jose doused streets, damaged homes, destroyed vacations and beached a few sailboats in a string of northeast Caribbean islands but ended its assault as a relatively tame hurricane that caused no loss of life.

With the memory of last year's deadlier tempests still fresh, islanders breathed a sigh of relief as Jose was downgraded to a 65 mph tropical storm and drifted into the open Atlantic, just north of Puerto Rico.

Â"We didn't sleep well last night, but we should be thankful we were spared a direct hit,Â" Charles Turnbull, governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Thursday. He lifted a curfew in the territory at midday, but schools and government offices were to be closed through Friday to assess damage.

From island to island, people contemplated soaked furniture and electrical goods destroyed by floods and picked through irreplaceable mementos like photographs.

Jose was packing 100-mph winds when it began marching through a chain of tiny islands in the northeast Caribbean early Wednesday. It jangled nerves because of a zigzag course that befuddled forecasters and at one time brought hurricane warnings as far west as Puerto Rico.

In Puerto Rico, protesters camping out on a U.S. Navy bombing range on the island of Vieques survived the storm unscathed, civil defense officials said. The protesters, who are trying to prevent U.S. military exercises on the island, hid from the winds by crawling inside tanks used as targets and a hurricane shelter built from wood and steel.

On the island of Antigua, four prisoners took advantage of the storm to break out but didn't get far. They apparently stabbed a guard who captured them, the local radio reported. Jose also ripped roofs from houses and a new church on the island, kicked up debris that slightly injured 14 people, uprooted trees and telephone lines and flooded the airport.

In Dutch St. Maarten, the storm flung three sailboats out of the harbor. It uprooted trees and electrical lines in Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands and damaged homes on St. Barts.

Â"We have two homes with roofs entirely torn off, and the airport (runway) is covered with sand,Â" said St. Barts police officer Frank Lacailla. Â"But everyone seems to be OK, so that's the important thing.Â"

The hurricane season isn't over, though. Even as Jose petered out, a new storm was forming about 500 miles southeast of the Leeward Islands, in about the same position Jose was a week or so ago, meteorologist John Guyney said at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

He said it could develop into a tropical depression in 12 to 24 hours.

Â"There's no center that we can detect,Â" Guyney said. But, he said, Â"anytime we've got something in the tropics, there's always a threat to the Caribbean islands.Â"

©1999 Reuters Limited. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report

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