"Hurricane Thanksgiving" Marks End of Season in Virgin Islands

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"Ninety percent of the storms that strike here start in Africa," said Gary Metz, a spokesperson for the University of the Virgin Islands on St. Thomas.

"When we watch the Weather Channel, they look like Pac Man—big, red, glowing blobs lined up across the Atlantic."

Although the hurricane season extends until November 30, Cape Verde storms don't often form after September.

The hurricanes that do form late in the season usually begin west of the Virgin Islands and move away from them. So by mid-October, the worst of the season is usually over for the islanders.

The last time a powerful hurricane crossed the Virgin Islands was September 1998, when Hurricane Georges raked the islands with winds exceeding 120 miles an hour (190 kilometers an hour).

Some spectacular earlier storms also pounded the islands.

One of the best known hurricanes visited the islands on August 31, 1772. Alexander Hamilton, who later became the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, was living in Christiansted on St. Croix when the storm struck.

Hamilton, who was about 15 years old at the time, wrote a dramatic letter to his father about the hurricane's fury.

"Good God! What horror and destruction," Hamilton wrote.

"It's impossible for me to describe—or you to form any idea of it. It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind—fiery meteors flying about in the air—the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning—the crash of falling houses—and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels."

Willie Drye is the author of Storm of the Century: The Labor Day hurricane of 1935, published by National Geographic.

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