By Josh Ball And Danica Coto
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HAMILTON, Bermuda _ People on the tiny British territory of Bermuda rushed Thursday to batten down for Hurricane Gonzalo, which was roaring toward them as a major Category 4 storm just days after a tropical storm damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines.
Gonzalo had top sustained winds of 145 mph (230 kph) on Thursday and was centred about 485 miles (780 kilometres) south-southwest of Bermuda. It was moving north at 7 mph (11 kph) and had increased slightly in strength late Thursday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Forecasters said the centre of Gonzalo will be near Bermuda Friday afternoon and evening. Tropical storm conditions are expected late Thursday.
“This is a very serious event,” Dave Fox, a public affairs officer for the Bermuda government, said in a phone interview. “I don’t recall seeing one of that size, not in my lifetime.”
The last major hurricane to strike Bermuda was Fabian in 2003, a Category 3 storm that killed four people. The last major hurricane to cross land in the Atlantic Basin was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, a Category 3 storm that hit Cuba.
Fox said the government opened a high school as a shelter, but that he expected most people to stay home.
“We build for hurricanes,” he said. “It’s part of the building code.”
Bermuda, which is 850 miles (1,400 kilometres) east of the U.S. state of South Carolina, has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world.
Kimberley Zuill, director of Bermuda Weather Service, said at a press conference that the storm is expected to affect the island for 27 hours.
“The path is similar to Fabian, the duration is similar to Fabian,” she said. “If your property was exposed and received damage during Fabian, you will want to prepare for that again.”
A hurricane warning was in effect for Bermuda, and forecasters said a dangerous storm surge accompanied by large and destructive waves could cause significant flooding on the island, which is about one-third the size of Washington, D.C. Some 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimetres) of rain was predicted.
Gonzalo was approaching Bermuda as people coped with the aftermath of Sunday’s Tropical Storm Fay. More than 1,000 homes remained without power and homeowners worked to repair damaged roofs. The government called out 200 soldiers of the Bermuda Regiment to help with cleanup efforts on the island of roughly 70,000 people.
The government said it would close the island’s international airport Thursday night, with several airlines increasing the number of flights departing Bermuda ahead of the storm.
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, and parts of the Bahamas.
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.