HAMILTON, Bermuda – Florence intensified into the second hurricane of the Atlantic season Sunday as it neared Bermuda, where residents stocked up on provisions and triple-tied boat moorings in lashing winds even as government officials urged islanders to take shelter at home.
Shopkeepers and homeowners boarded up windows and doors, with one closed flower shop bearing the sign: "We've gone away to chase away Florence. Back Tuesday."
The Category 1 hurricane, which had maximum sustained winds near 90 mph (150 kph) Sunday evening, was expected to become a Category 2 hurricane as it passes Bermuda, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was too early to tell whether this wealthy British enclave, with its hurricane-resistant homes and sturdy infrastructure, would take a direct hit.
But preparations to protect life and property "should be rushed to completion" as the center of the strengthening storm was expected to pass "very near" Bermuda on Monday morning, the hurricane center said.
With hurricane-force winds extending up to 60 miles (95 kilometers) from the storm's eye, even a near-miss could cause substantial damage, forecasters said.
Skies thickened with heavy clouds and waves began to build Sunday as gusty winds blew in spits of rain and usually tranquil ports turned into white-capped harbors. With the storm thundering toward the archipelago of tiny islands, many residents had hauled their yachts onto beaches.
Bermuda issued a hurricane warning for the British island chain of 65,000 permanent residents. The hurricane center said tropical-storm-force winds began affecting the mid-Atlantic territory by early Sunday afternoon. Sunday night a wind gust of 58 mph (93 kph) was reported at a Bermuda weather station.
Authorities said there were no injuries and no immediate reports of major damage as of 8 p.m. EDT.
Deputy Premier Ewart Brown told a news conference the anticipated "ferocious impact" of Florence would serve as "a test of our resilience as a country." He reminded islanders of the rebuilding effort in 2003, when Hurricane Fabian — the strongest storm to hit Bermuda in 50 years — killed four people, tore the roofs off several homes and left many of the territory's famed golf courses in ruins.
The storm was expected to veer from the U.S. as it turned north toward Bermuda, 640 miles (1,030 kilometers) east of the U.S. coast. But forecasters said it was already causing high surf and strong rip currents along parts of America's eastern seaboard and the Canadian Maritimes.
"Those waves will affect a good portion of the U.S. East Coast from basically Florida all the way up to the Cape Cod area" starting Sunday through the early part of next week, hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said.
At 8 p.m. EDT (0000 GMT), the center of the hurricane was roughly 150 miles (240 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda and was moving toward the north at about 14 mph (22 kph). Bermuda was expected to get 5 to 8 inches (13 to 20 centimeters) of rain, with up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) possible in some areas.
Bermuda International Airport was closed late Saturday and was expected to remain shuttered until Tuesday morning. Flights from New York and Miami scheduled to arrive late Saturday were canceled.
All ferry and bus services were halted. The territory's public utility announced that residents should prepare for prolonged electricity outages. Public schools and government offices were ordered closed Monday.
Authorities were keeping a part-time regiment on call to help respond to the hurricane at strategic points, including a causeway linking the main island with St. George's parish. Part of the causeway, which the government closed to traffic early Sunday night until the storm passed, was swept away when Fabian struck.
Bermuda's building codes specify that homes must be built with walls at least eight inches thick, and be able to withstand 150 mph (241 kph) gusts and sustained winds of 110 mph (177 kph). Many power and phone lines are underground.
At Pitts Bay marina, Bermudian Alan Hughes moved his 17-foot (5-meter) Boston Whaler away from the dock wall and tied it down. "We are obviously concerned and cautious," he said.
At the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, the hotel distributed a disaster plan — which included provisions for evacuation. Other hotels, playing up the island chain's vaunted ability to withstand a fierce storm, planned "hurricane parties" for their remaining guests in the honeymoon and tax haven.
Acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said all tourists were given the opportunity to leave. "Those still here have chosen to stay," Young said.
Some Bermudians, such as Ben Frith, 42, and his two children, seemed more excited than concerned about the advance of the storm.
"The kids have been going stir crazy waiting for the hurricane," Frith said, as his two sons — Hayden, 6, and Luca, 4 — ran excitedly along a beach in St. David's Island as winds howled and white-crested waves smacked the sand. "We were expecting it to be a bit more blowy."
Florence follows on the heels of Ernesto, which was briefly the season's first hurricane before weakening and drenching the U.S. East Coast last week. The storm was blamed for nine deaths in the United States and two in Haiti.
Florence developed in the peak of hurricane season over warm Atlantic water, the source of energy for storm development this time of year. Forecasters said the waters are not as warm as last year's storm season, which had a record 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes, including Katrina.