Bermuda closed its schools and international airport Friday as it prepared for a direct hit from Hurricane Gonzalo, considered among the strongest storms ever to threaten the British island territory.
Forecasters warned that Bermuda, which began experiencing tropical storm-force winds Friday morning, would be hit by about eight hours of damaging hurricane-force winds later in the day. Up to six inches of rain, high seas, and a life-threatening storm surge were also expected.
As a precaution, two hotels on Bermuda’s southern coast were evacuated, and residents of low-lying areas were urged to go to higher ground. The Associated Press reports that residents on the island have stripped stores of emergency supplies in preparation for the storm.
Gonzalo was a Category 4 storm with top sustained winds of 130 miles per hour and centered about 195 miles south-southwest of Bermuda early Friday, moving to the north-northwest at 15 mph, the AP reports. It was forecast to weaken throughout the day to a Category 3 by the time its eye passes within 29 to 35 miles of the island, close enough, forecasters said, to be considered a direct hit.
Dave Fox, a spokesman for the Bermuda government, told the AP that buildings on the island were designed to withstand heavy storms. He said the government opened a high school on the island as a shelter.
"We build for hurricanes," he said. "It's part of the building code."
Forecasters at the US National Hurricane Center said Gonzalo would start bringing heavy rain and winds to the island by late Friday morning. They expect full hurricane conditions to follow, Reuters reports.
Bermuda is still recovering from its brush last Sunday with Tropical Storm Fay, which packed 70-mph winds, just below hurricane force. Fay damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines. As of late Thursday, 1,500 homes were reported to be without power still. Reuters reports:
Linda Cook, 40, from Warwick parish, described watching that storm blow the roofs off three houses on Sunday, and added that she didn't know what to expect from Gonzalo. "It's my first hurricane and I'm terrified," she said on Thursday.
It is the Atlantic's first Category 4 hurricane since 2011, according to Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert with private forecaster Weather Underground. He described Gonzalo in a blog post as "one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to threaten the island."
Gonzalo is expected to be the strongest hurricane to hit Bermuda since Fabian, a Category 3 storm that killed four people in 2003, the AP reports.
Kimberley Zuill, the director of the Bermuda Weather Service, told the AP that Gonzalo's path and duration would be similar to Fabian's. With seas expected to reach 35 to 45 feet, forecasters warn that the island could experience significant flooding.