Powerful Hurricane Gonzalo roars toward nighttime pass over Bermuda as Category 3 storm

Hurricane Gonzalo pounded Bermuda with wind and heavy surf Friday, bearing down on the tiny British territory as a powerful Category 3 storm that could raise coastal seas as much as 10 feet (3 metres).

HAMILTON, Bermuda — Hurricane Gonzalo pounded Bermuda with wind and heavy surf Friday, bearing down on the tiny British territory as a powerful Category 3 storm that could raise coastal seas as much as 10 feet (3 metres).

The storm was centred about 50 miles (80 kilometres) south-southwest of Bermuda in late afternoon with top sustained winds that had diminished slightly to 115 mph (185 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving north-northeast at 16 mph (26 kph) and was expected to pass near or over Bermuda in the evening.

A white haze covered the island as waves slammed into the shore and the wind uprooted banana trees. The Bermuda Weather Service said the eye of Gonzalo was likely to move over parts of the island in the coming hours, bringing a lull, but forecasters warned people not to go outside because the most dangerous winds were expected after nightfall.

Hurricane-force winds were predicted to batter Bermuda for seven hours, and forecasters said a storm surge would cause significant flooding on an island about one-third the size of Washington, D.C.

“We are still looking at an imminent pass near or over Bermuda,” said Jeff Torgerson, a meteorologist for the Bermuda Weather Service.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm’s wind speed was likely to slow as Gonzalo moved farther northward on a track that would take it past Newfoundland and across the Atlantic to Britain and Ireland, with a tropical storm watch issued for parts of southeastern Newfoundland. 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 was approaching Bermuda as waves of 35 to 40 feet (11 to 12 metres) built up 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 three police officers and another person while causing more than $100 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.

Forecasters said Gonzalo was on the same path as Fabian and expected to cause similar damage.

The last major hurricane to cross land in the Atlantic Basin was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which hit Cuba as a Category 3 storm.

Bermuda has a population of roughly 70,000 and lies 850 miles (1,400 kilometres) 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 island’s premier 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.

Bermuda closed its schools, the international airport and the causeway.

Despite warnings to take shelter, a crowd gathered at Elbow Beach Friday morning on the island’s southeast coast to watch the growing waves and swap storm safety tips.

Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva expressed alarm over the number of people still on the road as the storm approached. The Royal Gazette newspaper reported that one man had to be rescued from his boat and authorities briefly reopened the causeway to take a man to the hospital.

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 became inaccessible. At least 13,000 people were without power.

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.

The hurricane was arriving just days after Tropical Storm Fay damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines in Bermuda, and 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.

In the Pacific, Ana strengthened into a hurricane as it drove toward Hawaii. It was expected to return to tropical storm strength late Saturday, when it was forecast to be near the Big Island, about 85 to 90 miles (135 to 140 kilometres) offshore to the southwest.

It was forecast to bring 40 to 50 mph (65-80 kph) winds to Honolulu on Oahu and to the Big Island’s Kau, Puna and South Kona districts.