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St. Croix Still Without Power; Seaports Closed; Curfew Imposed

Oct. 16, 2008 -– As St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island began to return to business as usual Thursday, St. Croix remained powerless and in many cases without phones, the result of Category 3 Hurricane Omar’s passage over the territory.
At 4:30 p.m. the V.I. Police Department said a curfew from 6 p.m. Thursday to 6 a.m. Friday had been imposed, for the safety of residents.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. made the decision to impose the curfew Thursday evening after consulting with VITEMA, the U.S. National Guard and the V.I. Police Department. A curfew would make it easier for work crews, the governor said.
"Most of the island is without power; there are no streetlights or stop lights," said VIPD spokeswoman Melody Rames. "There are trees encroaching on roadways and utility poles down — especially on the East End."
Curfew violators could be arrested or fined, she said. While some people were allowed to return home with a warning Wednesday night, police will impose stricter penalties Thursday night.
"This is for the safety of residents," Rames said.
While power had been restored in limited areas by 6:30 p.m. Thursday — including sections of Frederiksted and Christiansted — most of St. Croix remained in the dark.
The V.I. Water and Power Authority’s generating system shut down at 10:30 Wednesday night after a surge caused it to go into automatic default mode, said Cassandra Dunn, WAPA spokesperson, on Thursday afternoon. When attempts to restart it failed, WAPA officials decided the safest procedure would be to wait until daylight to restart the system.
As of 2 p.m. Thursday, WAPA personnel had not been able to pinpoint the problem in restarting the plant.
WAPA workers first tried to restore power to the Juan Luis Hospital and failed, Dunn said.
"And we’ve got a lot of experts working on it," she said. "It’s a perplexing problem."
Dunn could not say when power would be restored.
Crews had cleared most major roads by Thursday afternoon, including the Melvin Evans and Queen Mary highways. Among the worst-hit areas was St. Croix's south shore between Divi Carina Bay Casino and Great Pond. Thirty or more utility poles were down across the road, which will probably remain impassable into the day Friday.
Waste dump sites remain closed, but officials say they may reopen Friday.
Management teams from Innovative Telephone were on St. Croix Thursday afternoon assessing the situation, said spokeswoman Janette Millan.
"Our network stood up to the elements," said Innovative Telephone President Clarke Garnett. "We experienced minor issues due to a lack of power, which affected our switches. However, in the majority of cases we were able to provide battery backup and deploy mobile generators to power the switches to ensure consistent telephone service."
He said 3,000 lines were down territory wide, most of them on St. Croix.
The U.S. Coast Guard in San Juan also said it would probably be at least Friday before St. Croix’s seaports would reopen. The Coast Guard’s efforts to assess the situation were hampered by impassable roads and damaged boats in Christiansted harbor — including four that sank.
Several utility poles were down, and low-hanging wires on St. Croix’s East End were still a hazard Thursday afternoon. Most of the roads were covered by tree branches, twigs, leaves and mud on Thursday, according to Rames, who had been part of an island-wide assessment.
In Christiansted, at least one Mahogany tree was felled, likely the result of soil saturation.
"You can see people with their tools taking care of low-hanging branches" and cleaning up debris, Rames said Thursday afternoon.
Firefighters at M Company in Grove Place used a high-pressure hose to clean the street of tree branches and leaves in front of their station.
Most of the damage seems to be limited to downed poles and trees, Rames said. "Definitely not like Hugo," she said, adding she saw almost no damage to homes or businesses.
A local radio station broadcast Wednesday night's third and final presidential debate between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama. Several Crucians said they were happy to be able to listen to the debate — it gave them something to take their mind off the approaching storm.
Coconuts were down across the island, and several people were seen Thursday selling them from the beds of pickup trucks.
Rames said she encountered two youngsters –- a 13-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy — cleaning up early Thursday morning near Cane Break Apartments on the road to Frederiksted.
When asked why they were cleaning up a public street, they replied, "We don’t have anything else to do, so we thought we’d help."
Senate candidate Kendall "Seigo" Petersen, who pleaded not guilty to drug charges in September, didn't think Omar qualified as much of a storm.
"This was no hurricane," he said Thursday afternoon. "Look at my bush — the flowers are still on it. This was nothing. Just a little rain to make St. Croix green before the election."

Editor's note: The Source mistakenly called Hurricane Omar a Category 1. It was a Category 3 when it hit St. Croix.

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