Powerful Hurricane Gonzalo approaching Bermuda
HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) - Hurricane Gonzalo roared toward Bermuda as a powerful Category 3 storm on Friday and the head of the tiny British territory urged people to seek high ground due to a potential storm surge of 10 feet (3 meters).
The storm was centered about 150 miles (245 kilometers) south-southwest of Bermuda late Friday morning with top sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving to the north-northeast at 16 mph (26 kph) and was expected to pass near or over Bermuda Friday evening.
Hurricane-force winds are predicted to batter Bermuda for at least eight hours, and forecasters said a storm surge would cause significant flooding on an island about one-third the size of Washington, D.C.
"We can expect heavy damage out of swell and surge," said Rob Howlett, a meteorologist with the Bermuda Weather Service.
He said Gonzalo's eye is expected to pass close enough to be considered a direct hit.
The National Hurricane Center said winds are likely to slow as the storm moves further northward on a track that would take it past Newfoundland and across the Atlantic to Britain and Ireland. But "any weakening is probably too late to spare Bermuda, with almost all of the guidance showing the system as a major hurricane as it moves nearby."
Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen said a storm surge is approaching Bermuda as waves of 35 to 40 feet (11 to 12 meters) build out in open ocean.
"That's a pretty big wall of water," he said in a phone interview.
The last major hurricane to strike Bermuda was Fabian in September 2003, a Category 3 storm that killed four people, including three police officers, and caused some $300 million in damage as it tore off roofs, pulverized trees and flooded famed golf courses.
It also damaged the causeway linking the airport to most of Bermuda and left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power. The last major hurricane to cross land in the Atlantic Basin was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which hit Cuba as a Category 3 storm.
Forecasters say Gonzalo is on the same path as Fabian and expected to cause similar damage.
Bermuda has a population of roughly 70,000 and lies 850 miles (1,400 kilometers) east of the U.S. state of South Carolina. It has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world and is well-prepared to handle intense storms, with officials enforcing strict building codes to ensure homes can withstand sustained winds of at least 110 mph (177 kph).
The leader of the tiny territory in the Atlantic urged those in low-lying areas to consider moving to higher ground. "We should expect at least 24 hours of storm-force winds," Premier Michael Dunkley said.
Despite the warnings, a crowd gathered at Elbow Beach Friday morning on the island's southeast coast to watch the growing waves and swap storm tips, with one person suggesting the safest place was under the stairs. In the town of St. George, Nick West took his dog on a final walk.
"There are a bunch of folks sitting in the square talking about the storm, but it's all pretty calm so far," he said.
Soldiers from the Bermuda Regiment were dispatched to several areas, with some stationed at nursing homes. Two ambulances and medical personnel were stationed at the Regiment's headquarters in case the hospital becomes inaccessible.
A 436-foot (133-meter) frigate of Britain's Royal Navy with a crew of some 180 sailors was expected to arrive Sunday to help with post-storm recovery efforts.
Bermuda closed its schools, the international airport and the causeway. Authorities on Thursday evacuated two hotels along Bermuda's southern coast, with guests either flying out or being placed in another hotel.
The looming hurricane comes days after Tropical Storm Fay damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines in Bermuda, where people stripped stores of emergency supplies as they battened down for Gonzalo.
Gonzalo swept by the eastern Caribbean earlier this week, claiming one life in the Dutch territory of St. Maarten. Large ocean swells continued to affect parts of the Virgin Islands, the northern coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, parts of the Bahamas and the U.S. southeast coast.