Igor passes near Bermuda as Category 1 hurricane

Published 5:05 pm Monday, September 20, 2010

Hurricane Igor swept past Bermuda, lashing at the Atlantic island with high winds and furious waves as power failed in many areas, plunging people hunkered down at home into darkness.

Tropical-storm-force winds continued to hit the island early Monday after passage of the broad storm, which had weakened to just above hurricane status as its center passed about 40 miles to the west just before midnight. Winds of 75 mph battered the island, and the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said gusts ranged up to 93 mph.

By dawn Monday, the hurricane’s center was about 200 miles north of Bermuda and it was heading to the north-northeast at 21 mph, the Hurricane Center reported.

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A tropical storm watch was issued for the coast of Newfoundland in Canada.

Igor was predicted to veer northeast away from the United States, although forecasters said it would still cause high surf and strong rip currents along the U.S. eastern seaboard.

Wind whipped around trees and power poles on Bermuda, while furious waves crashed over breakwaters and bridges. Yachts strained at their moorings. There were no early reports of major damage, although power was out in many areas and communications were spotty.

“We’re certainly getting our money’s worth in drama,” lawyer James Dodi said while standing outside a downtown hotel in Hamilton watching Igor’s winds whip through palm trees and howl around buildings Sunday night.

Dodi, 43, a native of Toronto who moved from Canada six years ago, left his Hamilton home and took refuge at the hotel.

Flooding was reported in low-lying areas of Bermuda, while streets in downtown Hamilton, the capital, were covered in several inches of water and littered with tree branches and other debris.

Bermuda’s power utility reported that roughly 19,500 customers had lost electricity by Sunday evening on the British territory of 68,000 inhabitants.

Jah Simmons, 25, and Gregory Wilson, 36, headed into the center of Hamilton after their homes lost power. Both said they were relieved the storm was not stronger. “It’s a blessing in my mind,” Simmons said.

Igor lost strength and was downgraded from a Category 2 hurricane before dawn Sunday, raising optimism that Bermuda would be spared major damage.

“We prayed that the storm would be downgraded, and it looks like our prayers have been answered,” said Fred Swan, a 52-year-old teacher.

Before Igor arrived, some storm-seasoned Bermudians ventured outside to marvel as 15-foot surf crashed ashore, even through the government warned people to stay indoors, keeping in mind that the high surf kicked up by Igor earlier swept two people out to sea in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, far to the south.

School principal Marion Dyer, 47, said she holed up with her 8-year-old daughter and two others after losing power around dawn Sunday, when Igor’s outer bands began severely whipping Bermuda.

“Now and again we get bursts of wild wind which sends the rain in all directions,” Dyer wrote in an e-mail to an Associated Press reporter. “We have heard several rolls of thunder which are becoming more frequent.”

While many tourists hopped on flights home before the airport closed Saturday, Elaine and Brian LaFleur of New Bedford, Massachusetts, said they actually moved up their arrival so they would be here when Igor hit. They wanted a new experience for their 28th trip to the island.

“We’ve done everything else on this island, but we’ve never experienced a hurricane,” said Elaine LaFleur, 62.

Hotel cancellations were reported across Bermuda, an island about 600 miles off the U.S. coast that is popular with tourists for its pink sand beaches and with businesspeople as an offshore financial haven.

Bermuda’s building codes specify that homes must be built with walls at least eight inches thick, and be able to withstand 150 mph gusts and sustained winds of 110 mph. Some power and phone lines are underground.

Officials said schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday, and a local newspaper canceled its Monday edition.

Also in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Julia was maintaining its intensity as it swirled about 1,165 miles west of the Azores with maximum sustained winds near 45 mph.