Hurricane Florence knocks out power to thousands in Bermuda

Monday, September 11th 2006, 6:04 am
By: News On 6

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) _ Hurricane Florence knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses in Bermuda but was moving away from the wealthy British enclave Monday as tourists hunkered down inside resort hotels.

The eye of Florence, the second hurricane of the Atlantic season, was churning northwest of Bermuda. It was spared a direct hit by the eye of the storm, but forecasters said hurricane-force winds extending up to 70 miles from the center could cause substantial damage.

At least 23,000 homes and businesses were without power in the British island chain of 65,000 permanent residents, according to Bermuda's electric company.

The Category 1 hurricane, which had maximum sustained winds near 90 mph, knocked down trees and utility poles but there were no immediate reports of major damage or injuries. A wind gust of 78 mph was recorded at Bermuda's airport.

Some people were unfazed by the latest storm to hit the island chain, which enforces strict building codes to withstand rough weather.

``We're still serving breakfast and everything is normal,'' said Rowena Smith, an employee at The Reefs, a cliffside resort on the vulnerable south shore. About 50 guests checked out early Saturday, but more than 80 stayed to ride out the storm at the hotel.

``They're in high spirits. We have a lot of repeaters in house, and they're having fun,'' Smith said.

The center of the storm was 90 miles northwest of Bermuda at 2 p.m. EDT, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Florence was moving away from Bermuda to the north-northeast at 14 mph and was expected to continue away from the U.S. coast with a boost of forward speed, forecasters said.

As the storm passed Bermuda, 640 miles east of the U.S. coast, forecasters said it already was causing high surf and strong rip currents along parts of America's eastern seaboard and the Canadian Maritimes.

Strong bands of wind and rain have hammered the British territory since Sunday, when tropical-storm-force winds first began affecting the mid-Atlantic territory.

On Sunday, Deputy Premier Ewart Brown told a news conference the anticipated ``ferocious impact'' of Florence would serve as ``a test of our resilience as a country.''

He reminded islanders of the rebuilding effort in 2003, when Hurricane Fabian _ the strongest storm to hit Bermuda in 50 years _ killed four people, tore the roofs off several homes and left many of the territory's famed golf courses in ruins.

Bermuda International Airport was closed late Saturday and was expected to remain shuttered until Tuesday morning. Flights from New York and Miami scheduled to arrive late Saturday were canceled.

All ferry and bus services were halted. The territory's public utility announced that residents should prepare for prolonged electricity outages. Public schools and government offices were ordered closed Monday.

Authorities were keeping a part-time regiment on call to help respond to the hurricane at strategic points, including a causeway linking the main island with St. George's parish. Part of the causeway, which the government closed to traffic early Sunday night until the storm passed, was swept away when Fabian struck.

Bermuda's building codes specify that homes must be built with walls at least 8 inches thick, and be able to withstand 150 mph gusts and sustained winds of 110 mph. Many power and phone lines are underground.

At Pitts Bay marina, Bermudian Alan Hughes moved his 17-foot Boston Whaler away from the dock wall and tied it down. ``We are obviously concerned and cautious,'' he said.

At the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, the hotel distributed a disaster plan, which included provisions for evacuation. Other hotels, playing up the island chain's vaunted ability to withstand a fierce storm, planned ``hurricane parties'' for their remaining guests in the honeymoon and tax haven.

Acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said all tourists were given the opportunity to leave. ``Those still here have chosen to stay,'' Young said.