Hurricane Gonzalo regains strength on way to Bermuda

One of the most powerful hurricanes ever to menace Bermuda regained strength as it swirled toward the Atlantic island on Thursday, forecasters said, sending residents scrambling to prepare for the second major storm in a week.

Reuters| Updated: Oct 17, 2014, 10:07 AM IST

Hamilton: One of the most powerful hurricanes ever to menace Bermuda regained strength as it swirled toward the Atlantic island on Thursday, forecasters said, sending residents scrambling to prepare for the second major storm in a week.

Hurricane Gonzalo was churning far off the coast of Florida on Thursday night, about 340 miles (545 km) south-southwest of the British territory, packing sustained winds of up 140 miles per hour (220 kph), the National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.

The Category 4 storm is on track to hit Bermuda on Friday, with the hurricane`s eye expected to pass within just 35 miles (56 km) of the island, forecasters said, about 25 miles closer than earlier forecast.

Bermuda, a popular tourist destination and insurance industry hub off the North Carolina coast, is still recovering from Tropical Storm Fay, which swept over the island early on Sunday with near hurricane-force winds of 70 mph (110 kph). 

Morris Moniz, manager of a Bermuda hardware store, said business was chaotic, with demand running high for generators, water, flashlights, batteries and other supplies. 

"We’ve had everybody working," he said. "We called everyone in."

Residents lined up at a garbage dump to dispose of trash and storm debris from Fay to keep it from blowing around during Gonzalo. About 1,500 homes still lacked power on Thursday.

Most airlines scheduled extra flights off Bermuda for Thursday, with the airport set to close Thursday evening.

Gonzalo was expected to slowly weaken late Thursday, a trend set to continue through Friday, forecasters said, but was still likely to hit Bermuda as a Category 3 hurricane.

It is the Atlantic`s first Category 4 hurricane since 2011, when Ophelia`s winds reached 140 mph (225 kph), according to Jeff Masters, a hurricane expert with private forecaster Weather Underground.

In his blog post, Masters called Gonzalo "one of the most powerful hurricanes ever to threaten the island." 

Hurricane Fabian, which pummelled the island in 2003 and caused $300 million in damage, was a Category 3 storm, he said, adding it was so bad that the name of Fabian was retired. Gonzalo could bring a similar storm surge, forecasters said.

Gonzalo already has caused damage in the Caribbean islands of Antigua, Saint Martin and Martinique.

An 87-year-old sailor in St Maarten, the Dutch portion of Saint Martin island, died after his boat sank in a marina where 37 vessels were damaged, the Daily Herald reported.