Hurricane Florence churns toward Bermuda

The sixth tropical storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, Florence, strengthened into a hurricane in the open Atlantic on Sunday, United States forecasters said.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds have increased to near 120kph, making it a Category-One hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Forecasters predicted the storm would continue to strengthen in the next 24 hours.

Florence was 580km south of Bermuda by 6am GMT and moving north-northwest at 20kph, according to the Miami-based hurricane centre.

The hurricane was expected to make a gradual turn toward the north on Sunday. That would move it away from the United States and into a part of the open Atlantic.

The storm’s approach prompted Bermuda’s government to issue a tropical storm warning on Saturday to its 63 000 residents that tropical storm conditions could arrive within 24 hours, as well as a hurricane watch warning of hurricane conditions—with top sustained winds of at least 119kph within 36 hours.

The hurricane centre said a hurricane warning would likely be issued later on Sunday.

Bermuda shut its airport and put emergency workers on standby on Saturday. The airport was not expected to re-open until Tuesday, officials said.

Acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said hundreds of emergency service workers were on standby and tourists have been issued emergency plans by their hotels.

“All tourists have been given the opportunity to leave.
Those still here have chosen to stay,” she said.

Coastal residents on the 35km-long island were urged to head to the government shelter in a high school.

Bermuda could experience six- to eight-foot storm surges as Florence passes by the island, the hurricane centre said.

Florence was a large storm and large ocean swells and dangerous surf conditions, including rip tides, were already affecting Bermuda, as well as the Northern Leeward Islands, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Hispaniola.

Those conditions will begin to affect areas of the US East Coast on Sunday morning, according to the hurricane centre.

Bermuda could expect 13 to 20cm of rain, with up to 25cm in places, the centre said.

Mechanic Paul Henderson (53) recalled 1987’s devastating Hurricane Emily as he stocked up on batteries.

“I was still cleaning up my property three years after,” he said. - Reuters

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