Hurricane Omar moves through northern Caribbean Sea

CHRISTIANSTED, U.S. Virgin Islands -- Hurricane Omar fell apart out at sea Thursday after delivering a glancing blow to the U.S. Virgin Islands and lashing the most-populated island of St. Croix with rain.

The storm's powerful core passed overnight between St. Martin and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, said Lixion Avila, a hurricane specialist with the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

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

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

A last-minute shift to the east spared St. Croix, the most populated of the islands.

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

"We did reasonably well actually," Inez said. "We did not get what we expected."

The island's international airport reopened Thursday afternoon, but the Virgin Gorda airport remained closed because of flooding.

At least 30 people were evacuated in Antigua, where emergency officials in boats rescued people stranded on their roofs as floodwaters rose. An estimated 75 people remained in shelters.

Omar began weakening as it headed over the ocean. By Thursday afternoon, it was centered about 350 miles northeast of the northern Leeward Islands and moving north-northeast near 26 mph. It had maximum winds of 75 mph.

Omar was taking an unusual southwest-to-northeast track toward the central North Atlantic, well away from the U.S. mainland. It was expected to become a tropical storm by today, according to the hurricane center.

On Thursday, cleanup crews fanned out across several flooded Caribbean islands, where power and water were slowly being restored.

Ports in Puerto Rico reopened, but remained closed in St. Croix.

In St. Maarten, roads were flooded and littered with tree branches and other debris, but authorities lifted a curfew Thursday afternoon and planned to reopen the main airport today.

Two hotels -- Divi Little Bay Beach Resort and Royal Islander Club -- might close temporarily after heavy water and wind damage, said Robert Dubourcq, executive product manager for St. Maarten's Hospitality and Trade Association.

A disco and restaurant at the Caravanserai Resort were destroyed, and construction of 260 new rooms might be temporarily halted, he said.

"Luckily, unlike hurricanes that we had in the past, Omar didn't affect our fauna," Dubourcq said. "The island is still green."

Officials in St. Kitts said the storm had caused minimal damage, although some low-lying areas are still flooded and beach erosion was reported on the island's western coast.

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.