IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Omar weakens, Virgin Islands get 'very lucky'

Hurricane Omar weakened Thursday as it quickly moved away from the Caribbean through the northern Leeward Islands without causing major damage.
Puerto Rico Tropical Weather
The sun rises Thursday over the coast of eastern Puerto Rico, with the outer bands of Hurricane Omar visible in the background.Brennan Linsley / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hurricane Omar weakened Thursday as it quickly moved away from the Caribbean through the northern Leeward Islands without causing major damage.

The powerful core of the storm, with the most intense winds, passed overnight between St. Martin and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands as a Category 3 storm, said Lixion Avila, a hurricane specialist with the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

"It could have been worse," Avila said. "They were very, very lucky."

A last-minute shift to the east spared St. Croix, the most populated of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which received just a glancing blow from the weaker side of the system.

Omar knocked down trees, caused some flooding and minor mudslides but there were no immediate reports of deaths or major damage in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said Mark Walters, director of the disaster management agency for the U.S. Caribbean territory.

The nearby British Virgin Islands also emerged largely unscathed, said Deputy Gov. Inez Archibald, noting there was little damage beyond some mudslides and scattered debris.

"We did reasonably well actually," Inez told The Associated Press. "We did not get what we expected."

Omar began weakening as it headed over the ocean. By late Thursday morning, it was centered about 180 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and moving northeast about 23 mph. It had maximum winds of 85 mph, making it a Category 1 storm.

Unusual track
Omar was taking an unusual southwest-to-the-northeast track toward the central North Atlantic, well away from the U.S. mainland.

In St. Martin, roads were flooded and littered with tree branches and other debris, but authorities planned to lift a curfew Thursday afternoon and reopen the main airport on Friday.

On the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, which was brushed by the storm, people returned to their homes from shelters where they spent the night and awaited the resumption of ferry service to the mainland of the U.S. island territory. Lingering bands of the storm were expected to bring rain and rough seas.

"Everything was calm, nothing happened," said Joselyn Ponce of the local office of emergency services.

One death was reported on Puerto Rico's tiny island of Culebra. Authorities say a 55-year-old man collapsed from cardiac arrest while trying to install storm shutters on his house.

The island's Hovensa oil refinery, one of the 10 largest in the world, shut down operations for the storm. Hovensa was expected to conduct an inspection for any damage before deciding whether to restart the refinery.

Hurricane Omar forced at least three cruise ships to change course and flights were canceled on several islands.