ISLANDERS on Bermuda brace for brush with Hurricane Erin

Sunday, September 9th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) _ Hurricane Erin pelted Bermuda with rain and stranded tourists Sunday, but forecasters predicted the storm would blow by the posh resort island without causing flooding or hurricane force winds.

Earlier projections showed Erin, the first named hurricane of the 2001 Atlantic season, coming within 15 miles of Bermuda _ but its track shifted slightly.

Instead, the storm was expected to pass within 75 miles northeast of the island late Sunday and will likely spin out to sea after that, said Richard Pasch, a hurricane specialist with the U.S. hurricane center. But the storm could still affect Canada, he said.

``It could pose a threat to places like Newfoundland in a few days, but that's not certain,'' Pasch said.

Forecasters expected Erin to strengthen, possibly to a Category 3 hurricane, which can carry winds from 111 to 130 mph and cause extensive damage if it makes landfall.

Flights in and out of Bermuda were canceled Sunday afternoon, stranding hundreds of travelers.

That ``gives me the chance to get some more work done,'' said Hugh DeSamper, 74, who was attending a conference of American travel writers that wrapped up Sunday.

Most airlines were to use larger aircraft or additional flights Monday to accommodate travelers, airport operations duty officer Bill Nearon said.

Cargo and cruise ships also canceled or delayed plans to arrive in Bermuda on Sunday. Hotels were trying to entertain stranded guests.

``We have set up a function room for guests with a big-screen TV and games,'' said Hamilton Princess resort operations director Ian Pullan. ``A lot of people want to be in a crowd in these situations.''

By 2 p.m. EDT, Erin's maximum sustained winds had reached nearly 105 mph. The hurricane was located about 110 miles east of Bermuda and was moving northwest at about 14 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles from the storm's center, and tropical storm force winds extended up to 175 miles.

Bus and ferry transport was suspended. A school was being used as an emergency shelter, but it was almost empty Sunday afternoon.

Bermuda, which lies about 560 miles off the coast of North Carolina, last had a hurricane in 1999 when Gert battered the south shore, causing damage and knocking out power to 12,000 homes.

But unlike other islands, Bermuda _ which was settled by British colonists who were shipwrecked on their way to Virginia _ enjoys one of the highest average incomes in the world because of its thriving offshore financial sector. Many of the homes have been built to withstand lashing hurricane and tropical storm-force winds.

``I have been through a few hurricanes and I am fairly relaxed,'' said teacher Duncan Ashworth.

Others were more concerned.

``I take it seriously. I will bring in garden furniture, tape up windows and doors and get the candles out,'' said realtor Jacqui Lewis.