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Hurricane's path still up in the air // Marilyn works over storm-weary islands

Trees crashed, power failed and roiling seas flooded a waterfront Friday as the Virgin Islands took a direct hit from Hurricane Marilyn's 100 mph winds and 12-foot waves.

Forecasters said they expected Marilyn to continue to move northwest toward the 3.7-million residents of Puerto Rico and to gain strength. The storm could become a Category 3 hurricane, with winds of 111 to 130 mph, overnight or today, the National Hurricane Center said.

It was too soon to tell whether Marilyn would affect the U.S. mainland, forecasters said, although a weather system off the East Coast could steer the storm out to sea, a pattern that has been repeated several times this year during an unusually active hurricane season.

Marilyn, the fourth hurricane to hit the Caribbean in as many weeks, struck as islanders on St. Croix still were repairing the damage wrought by Hurricane Luis with its 140 mph winds last week.

In St. Croix, Marilyn's winds ripped galvanized steel roofs off some homes and toppled the radio tower of WSTX, the Virgin Islands' main radio station, Gov. Roy L. Schneider told radio station WSTA 1000 in St. Thomas.

"We've just gotten plastered by this thing," said ham radio operator Herb Schoenbaum.

Marilyn's eye passed right over St. Croix. "It's dead calm," Lt. Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp told the radio station.

At Christiansted, the old Danish capital of St. Croix, the remains of the Cormorant Beach Hotel restaurant remained half-submerged in the sea where it was carried by Luis' 10-foot waves on Sept. 5.

Marilyn flooded towns, damaged dozens of homes and rampaged through banana and sugar cane plantations in the eastern Caribbean islands on Thursday, destroying the little that Luis had left of Dominica's vital banana crop.

As Marilyn gained strength to become a Category 2 hurricane early Friday, officials shut airports in its path and opened shelters. Residents crowded supermarkets for last-minute supplies of batteries and food.

At 8 p.m., Marilyn's center was just north of St. Croix and was moving northwest at 12 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Maximum sustained winds were 100 mph with higher gusts.

Marilyn's hurricane-force winds extended for 30 miles from its center. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward 115 miles.

Hurricane warnings were in effect northwest to Puerto Rico. Farther west, the Dominican Republic issued a hurricane watch for its northeast coast.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency dispatched emergency response teams to the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, while Schneider ordered the National Guard to police a curfew from 3 p.m. Friday to 6 a.m. Saturday.

As heavy rains swept across the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Friday afternoon, forecasters warned of flash floods, mudslides and heavy surf conditions.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, carpenter Robert Charleston laid out extra anchors to secure his sailboat in a harbor scattered with vessels beached and flung onto the rocks by Luis. There was even one rusting victim left over from Hurricane Hugo, which ravaged the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico almost six years to the day in September 1989.

Luis, one of the most powerful storms on record, killed 12 people on five islands as it tore apart homes, washed away roads and sunk 200 boats in harbor at the French-Dutch island of St. Martin.

"I'm tired of this," Charleston, 52, said as he headed home to hammer plywood shields over glass windows. He had just taken them down this week, after Luis.

Friday afternoon, the St. Croix airport control tower reported wind gusts of 84 mph and trees crashing. Amateur radio operators later relayed a report of a 127 mph wind gust from the National Guard on St. Croix, the National Weather Service reported.

High waves spilled across the waterfront of Charlotte Amalie, the capital on St. Thomas island.

In Puerto Rico, Gov. Pedro Rosello declared a state of emergency that enables him to seek federal aid.

Rosello asked citizens to take advantage of shelters, and civil defense officials said 1,400 had done so. He also announced a temporary ban on alcohol sales, in effect until Sunday.

The National Weather Service's San Juan office warned people not to emerge from shelters in the deceptive calm at the center of the storm. "Do not be fooled by calm winds in the center or eye of Marilyn. Remain in shelter!" an advisory said.