‘Very large’ Hurricane Igor pounds tiny Bermuda

Hurricane Igor battered Bermuda with ferocious winds, waves and rain on Sunday, felling trees and power lines in the Atlantic island chain in one of the worst storms to hit the British overseas territory.

The US National Hurricane Centre said the core of the “very large” hurricane, packing maximum sustained winds near 120km/h, was passing just west of Bermuda, a popular tourist destination and wealthy global insurance center more than 1 000km east of the US East Coast.

Residents reported uprooted trees, flying debris, widespread power failuers, some flooding of streets and homes and boats torn free from moorings by pounding waves battering the coast. But there were no immediate reports of casualties.

At 3am GMT, Igor’s centre was about 65km west of Bermuda, moving north north-east at 22km/h per hour.

Hurricane force winds extended out about 150km from Igor’s centre, and radar images showed its swirling shape dwarfing the 54 square-kilometre island group.

Power lines were knocked out, interrupting service to 21 000 customers — well over half of the territory’s electricity users — according to the local power utility Belco. Bermuda has a population of more than 67 000.

Police spokesperson Dwayne Caines reported “high winds, very intense” and said closed circuit TV cameras were showing waves 3m to 3,6m high “almost coming to the buildings in front of the ferry terminal” in the capital Hamilton.

A weather observation station in Bermuda said one wind gust reached 150km/h.

Hurricane conditions were expected to continue overnight into early Monday.

“The rain is coming in sideways, basically it is very rough. Trees are down and there are branches blowing all over the place and there is lots of debris flying,” Mark Tatem, a photographer for the Royal Gazette newspaper, wrote in a live hurricane chatroom set up by the paper.

Several roads in the capital were flooded.

Destroyer stands by
Bermuda Premier Ewart Brown had warned residents to brace for “one of the worst hurricanes to ever threaten our shores”.

David Saul, a 70-year-old businessman whose home overlooks Devonshire Bay in the centre of the island chain, earlier reported seeing “stupendous” waves.

“The waves are thrashing on the road,” he said.

Bermuda’s roads were deserted and churches had cancelled services. Most shops and restaurants in the capital were boarded up and residents had bought up emergency supplies like fuel, batteries, food and candles.

Local authorities on Sunday closed the causeway that links LF Wade International Airport and the eastern parish of St George’s to the rest of Bermuda. The airport was also closed.

The British Royal Navy’s destroyer HMS Manchester was on standby with a helicopter.

“It’s a ghost town out there,” said vacationer Tipper Raven of London, referring to the capital Hamilton.

The Bermuda government has warned residents to prepare for an impact similar to that of Hurricane Fabian in 2003, which killed four people and caused millions of dollars of damage.

Hurricane expert Jeff Masters of private US forecaster Weather Underground said Igor lost some of its original power due to the collapse of its eyewall — a hurricane’s most damaging inner zone — earlier on Sunday.

He wrote in a blog that buildings in Bermuda, which has a rigorous building code, were some of the best-constructed in the world, and were generally located at higher elevations out of storm surge zones, which would help limit damage from Igor.

The hurricane centre predicted total rainfall of 15cm to 22 cm over the Atlantic territory and said Igor’s storm surge could produce significant coastal flooding and destructive waves, particularly along the south coast.

Large sea swells would also affect the US East Coast through Monday, it added.

East of Igor, weakening Tropical Storm Julia posed no threat to land, and it was expected to dissipate on Tuesday, the hurricane centre said.

In Mexico over the weekend, the remnants of Hurricane Karl dissipated over the mountains of south central Mexico, after killing at least eight people, emergency workers said.

Karl appeared to have spared Mexican oil operations from major damage after sweeping through the Bay of Campeche, where Mexico produces more than two-thirds of its 2,55-million barrels per day of crude output. – Reuters

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