Hurricane Gonzalo barrels toward Bermuda as island rushes to clean up from recent storm

People on this small British territory are hurrying to batten down for Hurricane Gonzalo, which is churning toward them as a major Category 3 storm just days after a tropical storm damaged homes and knocked down trees and power lines in Bermuda.

Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami, said it was too early to tell whether the hurricane would actually hit Bermuda sometime Friday, but he warned residents to be prepared for severe weather.

"The eye of the hurricane does not have to go over Bermuda for them not to experience severe conditions," he said in a phone interview Wednesday.

Gonzalo had top sustained winds of 120 mph (195 kph) late Wednesday and it was centered about 580 miles (935 kilometers) south-southwest of Bermuda. It was moving north at 9 mph (15 kph), the hurricane center said. Gonzalo grew into a powerful Category 4 storm at one point Wednesday, but weakened a bit later in the day.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Bermuda, and forecasters said a dangerous storm surge could cause significant flooding on the island, which has some 64 miles (103 kilometers) of shoreline and has an area about one-third the size of Washington, D.C. Some 3 to 6 inches (8 to 15 centimeters) of rain was predicted.

The government said it would close the island's international airport Thursday night, when tropical storm conditions were first expected. Several airlines increased the number of flights departing Bermuda ahead of the storm.

Bermuda's residents already were coping with the aftermath of Sunday's Tropical Storm Fay.

More than 1,000 homes remained without power and homeowners worked to repair damaged roofs. The government called out 200 soldiers of the Bermuda Regiment to help with cleanup efforts on the island of roughly 70,000 people.

Max Atherden, a resident in Riddell's Bay where power hadn't come back on since Sunday, said Gonzalo wouldn't make much difference for him. "I'm still without power, and soon everyone else will be, too," he said.

People stripped the island's hardware stores of generators, batteries, candles and other items and picked up free tarpaulin distributed by the government. Supermarkets and gas stations braced for more crowds Thursday.

"After the scare at the weekend, people are paying attention this time," said Harry Moniz, a store employee. "We've already sold out of generators and are stocking the shelves as fast as items are flying out of the store."

Bermuda, which is 850 miles (1,400 kilometers) east of the U.S. state of South Carolina, has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world and its strict building codes make structures particularly capable of withstanding storms.

Gonzalo swept by the eastern Caribbean earlier this week, claiming at least one life in the Dutch territory of St. Maarten. Two people were missing, one in St. Martin and the other in St. Barts. Large ocean swells continued to affect parts of the Virgin Islands, the northern coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, and parts of the Bahamas.


Associated Press writer Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed to this report.