Tropical Storm Debby Picks up Speed

Tropical storm Debby, packing winds of 70 mph, has a 63 percent chance of striking the Caribbean island of St. Croix, home to the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil refinery, by Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said today.

Concerns that the storm would strengthen to 74 mph and turn into a hurricane and strike the island’s 545,000 barrel per day Hovensa refinery prompted company officials to partially shut down the plant.

The Hovensa refinery on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is jointly owned and operated by Amerada Hess and Venezuela’s PDVSA, and is a major producer of refined products to the continental United States.

At 5 p.m. EDT (2100 GMT), Debby was centered about 165 miles southeast of Antigua with winds at 70 mph, just under hurricane strength, the NHC said.

It was moving west-northwest at about 22 mph and had a 63 percent chance of passing within 75 nautical miles of St. Croix by Tuesday at 2 p.m. EST and a 57 percent chance of hitting St. Thomas, and a 49 percent chance of hitting San Juan, the NHC said.

Storm Watches Issued

A hurricane watch was issued early today for Puerto Rico and hurricane watches already were in effect for St. Maarten, Saba, St. Eustatius and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Tropical storm watches were in effect for the British Virgin Islands, Antigua, Barbuda, Anguilla, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, Guadeloupe, Maria-Galante, Desirade, Les Saintes, St. Bart and St. Martin.

“This system needs to be taken seriously,” said Stacy Stewart, a hurricane specialist.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, the National Park Service had started shutting down its national park on the island of St. John. Boaters moored off the park were told to move to safe harbors and some hotels were refusing reservations.

The British territory of Anguilla activated its disaster preparedness agency and warned small boats to stay in port.

Elsewhere, Hurricane Alberto, the longest-lived August tropical storm on record, was still spiraling in the open Atlantic. “After 68 advisories, what can you say about Alberto that hasn’t already been said,” noted hurricane specialist James Franklin.

Alberto weakened today, with its top sustained wind slowed to about 85 mph. At 5 a.m. EDT, the hurricane was about 995 miles west of the Azores and moving north-northeast at about 6 mph.

Alberto formed Aug. 4 and hasn’t threatened land.

Meanwhile, the remnants of Tropical Storm Chris had deteriorated Sunday into a weak tropical wave, meandering several hundred miles east of the Bahamas with no immediate strengthening expected.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.