Big waves pounded Bermuda’s beaches Sunday as islanders rushed to board up windows, fill sandbags and stock up on water, food and other supplies before Hurricane Igor’s expected arrival.
Under dark, cloudy skies, onlookers gathered along beaches to watch the 15-foot (5-meter) surf smash into breakwaters. Some were optimistic that a weakened Igor, which was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane overnight, would spare the wealthy British enclave serious damage.
“We prayed that the storm would be downgraded, and it looks like our prayers have been answered,” said Fred Swan, a 52-year-old teacher.
Igor was expected to pass over or very close to Bermuda late Sunday or early Monday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Wind gusts of hurricane force were already being reported on Bermuda by late morning.
It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (135 kph) — significantly weakened from previous days when it was an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, but still dangerous.
Officials urged islanders to take shelter at home. Public Safety Minister David Burch warned “the storm will be a long and punishing one.”
Premier Ewart Brown said islanders “have been forced to recognize that the ocean is not so vast and Bermuda not so unique as to be separated from the awesome power of nature.”
High surf kicked up by the storm has already swept two people out to sea in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, far to the south.
Late Sunday morning, Igor was about 135 miles (220 kilometers) south-southwest of Bermuda and heading north at 16 mph (26 kph), according to the U.S. hurricane center.
Forecasters said the storm could drop 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 centimeters) of rain over Bermuda and cause significant coastal flooding.
Steve Gibbons and five relatives ventured out on foot to Somerset Bridge, where high winds whipped the sea over the bridge and made it difficult to stand up straight.
“Later on, we’ll be inside hunkered down,” Gibbons said while bracing himself against the gusting wind.
Bermudians rushed to pull boats out of the water and buy supplies on Saturday.
“We’ve sold out of generators, tarpaulins, buckets, rope, screws, bottled water, coolers, even trash cans and plastic sheeting,” said Mark Stearns of Masters Ltd., a home and garden store in the capital of Hamilton. “Anything people can use to secure their homes.”
Hotel cancellations were reported across Bermuda, popular with tourists for its pink sand beaches and with businesspeople as an offshore financial haven.
A causeway linking the main island with St. George’s parish was closed, along with the L.F. Wade International Airport.
The last plane to leave was a British Airways flight to London, which departed three hours earlier than usual Saturday. Aboard was Jane Royden, 47, and her husband, both from Birmingham, England.
“We are quite relieved to be leaving and concerned for the safety of the island and everyone here,” said Royden, who cut her two-week vacation short by a week.
Officials said schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday, and a local newspaper canceled its Monday edition.
Hurricane Fabian killed four people when it hit Bermuda as a Category 3 hurricane in 2003.
In Mexico, people were cleaning up from flooding and wind damage caused by Hurricane Karl, which killed at least seven people after it came ashore Friday.
Officials reported seven fatalities from Karl, which continued to soak south-central parts of the country over the weekend even as it dissipated.
They included a 61-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl who died when a landslide buried a house in the town of Nexticapan in Puebla state. In Veracruz state, a woman and two young children were swept away by a rushing river in Cotaxtla.
Government workers and residents cleared mud, water and tree branches from homes and businesses in Cotaxtla, a town of 5,000 residents, where the flooding reached to the rooftops of buildings.
“There are no words for this,” Mayor Cirilo Pena said. “It’s something we didn’t expect. It’s the first time this river has risen so far.”
Far out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Julia was weakening and not expected to threaten land.