Hurricane Gonzalo makes direct hit on Bermuda

18th October 2014, Comments 0 comments

Hurricane Gonzalo made a direct hit on Bermuda late Friday as a strong category two storm, carrying drenching rains and punishing winds that plunged thousands of residents into the dark.

At 0000 GMT Saturday, the northern portion of the eye of Gonzalo, packing "damaging winds and life-threatening storm surges," moved over the island, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 110 miles (175 kilometers) per hour, and was moving northeast at 16 miles (26 kilometers) per hour.

Gonzalo has already killed one person in the Caribbean and caused property damage on neighboring islands before it hit Bermuda, a British overseas territory that is home to around 60,000 people.

A leading newspaper, the Royal Gazette, reported that some 30,000 people were without power, even before the full fury of Gonzalo had been unleashed on the archipelago.

Residents, whipped by winds and rains earlier Thursday as the hurricane approached, reported a strange calm as the center of the storm passed.

"We are definitely in the eye now, it's completely quiet," said Katie Titterton via text message from an apartment building near Grape Bay in central Bermuda.

"It's pitch black outside -- I can see a palm tree down, but that's all. It's not nice not being able to see what's happening," she said.

"It's eerily calm," said another resident, Kevin Metschnabel, also by text, from a house in the west end of the archipelago.

"But round two is coming soon," he added.

Schools, businesses, grocery stores and government offices all closed early Thursday, and many people boarded up the windows of their homes and placed sandbags outside in preparation of potential landfall in the evening.

The stillness at the center of Gonzalo was a contrast to its strong, destructive winds just moments earlier.

But US forecasters said the calm would be shortlived.

"Hurricane conditions are expected to resume on Bermuda in an hour or two after the southern portion of the eyewall passes north of the island," said the NHC.

Residents braced for more fury from the storm.

"We could hear lots of noise outside -- I'm guessing debris and the ocean," Titterton said.

"It's going to get crazy again soon as the eye passes. But for now we are making steak and cracking open a good bottle of wine."

Officials in Bermuda urged residents to stay indoors and off the roads.

"I wish everyone all the best for the next 24 hours. Good luck -- and look after each other," said Governor George Fergusson, the representative of the British crown in the archipelago.

The NHC said flooding was expected over much of the island from heavy rainfall and surges that already affected parts of the Virgin Islands, the northern coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, portions of the Bahamas, as well as the southeastern coast of the United States.

Bermuda's international airport shuttered operations late Thursday, and was not expected to reopen until Saturday at the earliest.

The days leading up to the arrival of Gonzalo saw a run on local stores, as residents stocked up with provisions and hurricane survival kits.

Generators were sold out in most places, with Bermuda anticipating a long stretch without power. Many people had only just had their electrical supply restored following Tropical Storm Fay the previous weekend.

The Bermuda Weather Service warned the storm's impact could be as severe as Hurricane Fabian in 2003, which killed four people and caused $300 million worth of damage.

Many boats in the harbors have been pulled out of the water, while British Royal Navy warship HMS Argyll was heading to the island to help with expected post-Gonzalo relief efforts.

Despite its potential for destruction, Premier Michael Dunkley sought to reassure residents, many of whom were well practiced in the art of storm preparedness.

"I'm pleased to see preparations people have made. Bermuda is well prepared now, people are being as safe as they can," he said in a radio address.

"Have patience, today is going to be a long day. Hunker down, we will ride this through."

Gonzalo's only known victim so far was an octogenarian sailor killed in the Dutch territory of St Maarten.

As Gonzalo barreled over Bermuda, Tropical Storm Ana approached Hawaii and was expected to pass south of the main island Friday and Saturday and then south of Oahu and Kauai over the weekend.

Gonzalo is the seventh storm of the Atlantic season -- which stretches from June to November -- and the third hurricane to slam the Caribbean this year.

Hurricane Cristobal left at least four people dead in late August when it thrashed the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Dominican Republic with heavy rains causing serious flooding.

© 2014 AFP

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