MIAMI -- Powerful hurricane Hugo swept west-northwest Sunday toward an expected rendezvous with Puerto Rico after lashing the Leeward Islands with fierce winds and heavy rain, leaving an estimated 3,000 people homeless on Guadeloupe.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami described Hugo as an extremely dangerous hurricane and said the storm, with maximum sustained winds of 140 mph, was on target to strike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
At 12 noon EDT, the center of Hugo was located about 210 miles east-southeast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, at latitude 16.8 degrees north and longitude 63.3 degrees west.
The storm was moving west-northwest at about 12 mph, and the hurricane center said the eye of the storm could pass over Puerto Rico late Sunday or early Monday.
The island was expected to feel the impact of the approaching storm earlier, however. Tropical storm force winds extended 200 miles to the east of Hugo's center, forecasters said. Hurricane force winds extended out 85 miles.
Initial reports said Hugo caused serious damage on Guadeloupe, leaving at least 3,000 people homeless. Although communications with the Caribbean archipelago were mostly down, some information reached nearby Martinique.
The Prefect of Martinique, Jean-Claude Roure was unable to immediately confirm reports that three people were killed.
'Three thousand homeless people have been identified,' Roure said in an interview with France-Info radio that was monitored in Paris. He added that the full extent of the damage had not yet been determined.
'Since people can not move around and nearly all communicatioons are cut, it is possible that there is some information that has not been communicated,' Roure said.
Roure said that to his knowledge there 'apparently was no harm to persons, and nothing serious has been signaled.'
However, a ham radio operator reported Sunday that as many as 80 people had been injured by the storm, although the extent and nature of those injuries was unknown.
The hurricane's eye crossed the the French-administered island group at around 1 a.m. EDT, the hurricane center said.
Although the storm's upper altitude sustained winds were measured at 140 mph, forecasters said they didnot know how strong the winds were on the ground.
However, Roure said the hurricane reportedly caused serious damage, including partial destruction of the control tower at the airport of the main island's capital, Pointe-a-Pitre. A serious fire broke out on the island but was extinguished after several hours, he said.
Roure quoted his Guadeloupe counterpart Jean-Claude Sarazin as saying the tiny island of Desirade 21 miles east of Pointe-a-Pitre was the worst hit.
Two specialized 30-member teams of civil defense rescue workers and firefighters left France's Orly Airport for Martinique Sunday evening on an Air France flight en route to Guadeloupe to help provide shelter for the homeless, restore electricity service and unblock roads.
Amateur radio reports from the hurricane zone Sunday also indicated widespread damage on Guadeloupe and reports of casaulties although the number or nature of casualties could not be learned.
An amateur radio operator on the island Anguilla reported wind speeds of 90 mph at 9 a.m. Sunday.
Hugo's track and intensity very closely resembles that of hurricane Betsy, which struck Puerto Rico in 1956, the weather service said.
Tropical force winds were forecast to begin early Sunday afternoon and spread across Puerto Rico in the late afternoon and evening.
At 12 noon EDT a hurricane warning was in effect for the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, St. Martin and surrounding islands. The government of the Dominican Republic also issued a hurricane watch for the eastern tip and northeast coast of Hispaniola, from La Romana to Puerto Plata.