Hurricane Bill, the first of the Atlantic storm season, doused Bermuda with heavy rain yesterday as it barreled past the islands, raising fears of life-threatening waves along the US east coast.
Packing winds of 165km an hour, the hurricane was set to head perilously close to the upscale island resort of Martha’s Vineyard, where US President Barack Obama and his family are heading for vacation today.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) warned of “extremely dangerous” surf and “life-threatening rip currents” throughout a vast area including the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
But the center downgraded the hurricane a notch to Category 2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, meaning the storm threatens to cause widespread damage but does not carry the same potential to destroy weak homes as a Category 3 storm.
In the Dominican Republic, on the island of Hispaniola, authorities reported waves up to 3m high churned up from Bill’s passage.
Bermuda shut down its main international gateway, L.F. Wade International Airport, for the night as the tourist island bunkered in.
“It’s quite wild at the moment, but we’re used to hurricanes in Bermuda,” said Lorna Cervantez, who works at the island’s Royal Palms Hotel. “From our previous experience, we have to get ready.”
Residents of the British overseas territory with gas cylinders were asked to turn them off as they could become dangerous projectiles if winds pick up.
Bermuda was expected to avoid a direct hit from Bill as the hurricane churns past it on its way to near Massachusetts in time for the Obamas’ arrival.
Yacht owners battened down the hatches at Martha’s Vineyard, a popular island of tranquility for the rich and famous where the US first family was scheduled to spend a week unwinding for the first time since Obama’s inauguration in January.
“Phones are ringing off the hook and the hurricane is all people are talking about,” said Ned Kaiser, the assistant harbor master at Martha’s Vineyard.
“We’re hearing we’ll have pretty big seas with the storm surge coming. Out in the ocean now, the waves are 12 to 15 feet [3.7m to 4.6m].”
One of the most prominent people affected by the hurricane was coincidentally also named Bill — former US president Bill Clinton, who was taking a vacation in Bermuda with his wife, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
US State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the power couple left on Thursday, but would not comment on the next stop in their vacation, which Clinton aides have kept a closely guarded secret.
It was the latest bad vacation news for the itinerant travelers, who canceled an earlier holiday on the Greek island of Corfu after the US diplomatic chief broke her elbow, forcing her to skip a trip to a regional conference there.
US oil giant Exxon Mobil said it was evacuating all 200 workers from a gas platform off the Canadian east coast ahead of Hurricane Bill’s expected weekend arrival.
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