Hurricane Nicole is headed toward Bermuda. Officials in the British territory have told residents to be wary of the Category 4 storm.
Bermuda hunkered down early Thursday as Hurricane Nicole rapidly strengthened into a major Category 4 storm and took aim at the tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean, far off the southeastern coast of the United States. Late Wednesday, the center of Nicole approached Bermuda from the south-southwest with wind speeds of up to 215 kilometers per hour (130 mph), according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The NHC called Nicole an "extremely dangerous" storm and urged islanders to rush preparations for its powerful rain and winds. "On the forecast track, the core of Nicole will pass over or near Bermuda on Thursday," the NHC reported in a 0300 UTC update.
Bermuda's Royal Gazette newspaper quoted a weather expert who said low-lying areas of the island would likely experience flooding. Authorities on the island have begun preparing for the impending arrival of the storm, with businesses and schools expected to stay shut until Friday.
"Nicole is a serious threat to Bermuda, and we cannot afford to have complacency with this storm," National Security Minister Jeff Baron told the Royal Gazette. "I cannot emphasize enough the critical importance of residents' securing their homes and completing their preparations well in advance of this storm," he said.
'Hope and pray'
Authorities ordered schools and government offices closed and asked people to remain indoors. Nevertheless, on Wednesday hundreds rushed to shops and gas stations for last-minute preparations as rain and wind began to batter Bermuda, which has sturdy infrastructure after experiencing its share of storms.
"I believe we are generally ready for it," Premier Michael Dunkley said. "Now we just have to hope and pray for the best."
By Thursday, most businesses had shuttered for the storm. Several carriers have canceled flights to Bermuda, as have cruise lines. Hotels have reported an uptick in bookings as people seek shelters with power.
The region is currently recovering from Hurricane Matthew, which brought mass destruction to the Caribbean island of Haiti, where it left hundreds of people dead. Scientists have warned that the effects of climate change are making the damage caused by such storms less predictable and tougher to prepare for .
Nicole has also kicked up heavy surf in islands south of Bermuda, including Puerto Rico, where authorities continue to look for a surfer who disappeared on Tuesday.
mkg/kl (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)