HAMILTON, Bermuda – A powerful Hurricane Gonzalo bore down on this tiny British territory early Friday, threatening to batter Bermuda with dangerous winds and life-threatening storm surge.
Premier Michael Dunkley urged residents in low-lying areas to move to higher ground.
"This hurricane is a large storm, and we should expect at least 24 hours of storm-force winds," he warned.
Gonzalo was expected to pass within 29 miles (46 kilometers) of Bermuda on Friday night, close enough to be considered a direct hit, the Bermuda Weather Service warned. Islanders should see tropical storm conditions by Friday morning, forecasters said.
The hurricane's arrival was coming just five days after Tropical Storm Fay damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines in Bermuda. About 1,500 homes were still without power late Thursday.
Gonzalo was a Category 4 storm late Thursday with top sustained winds of 140 mph (220 kph). It was centered about 340 miles (545 kilometers) south-southwest of Bermuda and was moving north-northeast at 14 mph (22 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
Dave Fox, a public affairs officer for the Bermuda government, said officials had turned a high school into a shelter, but he noted that wealthy Bermuda is known for having structures that can withstand heavy storms.
"We build for hurricanes," Fox said. "It's part of the building code."
The capital of Hamilton was nearly deserted after midday Thursday, although some stores remained open and reported a steady stream of customers grabbing up essentials at the last minute.
"Some people seem to have left it until the end to get things," said Melissa Trott, an employee at Phoenix Store. "We sold out of batteries, and our warehouse has none left."
Gas stations also saw brisk business.
"I was here for Hurricane Fabian in 2003, so I'm not taking any chances this time," said Susan Black, a retiree who was filling up her car and several gas cans. "I've been busy since 6:30 this morning getting things ready."
The last major hurricane to strike Bermuda was Fabian in 2003, a Category 3 storm that killed four people. The last major hurricane to cross land in the Atlantic Basin was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which hit Cuba as a Category 3 storm.
Kimberley Zuill, director of the Bermuda Weather Service, said Gonzalo's path and duration would be similar to Fabian's. Her agency predicted seas would reach 35 to 45 feet (11 to 14 meters) on Friday and said destructive waves could cause significant flooding on the island.
Some 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) of rain was predicted for Bermuda, which is an island of about 70,000 people sitting 850 miles (1,400 kilometers) off the U.S. East Coast.
Authorities evacuated two hotels along Bermuda's southern coast, with guests either flying out or being put other hotels. The government closed all public schools by Thursday afternoon and expected to close the island's international airport Thursday night.
Earlier this week, Gonzalo claimed one life in the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten. Large ocean swells continued for parts of the Virgin Islands, the northern shores of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, parts of the Bahamas and the U.S. East Coast from North Carolina southward.
Associated Press writer Josh Ball reported this story in Hamilton, Bermuda, and Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico.