Hurricane Igor batters Bermuda

HAMILTON (Reuters) – Hurricane Igor buffeted Bermuda with hurricane-force wind gusts, large waves and driving rain on Sunday as it bore down on the Atlantic island chain, which braced for a direct hit from one of the worst hurricanes to menace it.

Closing in on the small, isolated but densely-populated British overseas territory, Igor was packing top winds of 85 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It said Igor remained a “dangerous … very large” hurricane.

Residents of the Bermuda island group, a popular tourist destination and wealthy global insurance center located more than 600 miles east of the U.S. East Coast, reported high winds, driving rain and powerful waves battering the shore.

“The waves are stupendous. The volume of water coming into Devonshire Bay is quite aggressive. The waves are thrashing on the road,” said 70-year-old businessman David Saul, whose home overlooks Devonshire Bay in the center of the island chain.

Igor’s center was forecast to pass over or near Bermuda on Sunday evening or night.

The Miami-based Hurricane Center reported hurricane-force wind gusts and warned stronger winds were still to come.

Bermuda’s roads were deserted, churches canceled services and locals stayed at home. Some residents were already reporting power outages by Saturday night.

With hurricane-force winds extending out about 90 miles from its center, Igor had picked up speed slightly and was moving north at 16 miles per hour.

At 11 a.m. EDT, it was located about 135 miles south southwest of Bermuda.

“ONE OF THE WORST”

Bermuda Premier Ewart Brown had warned residents to brace for “one of the worst hurricanes to ever threaten our shores.”

Local authorities on Sunday closed the causeway which links L.F. Wade International Airport and the eastern parish of St. George’s to the rest of Bermuda. The airport was closed.

A team of specialist soldiers from the Bermuda Regiment were in position in the eastern parish to provide medics, a chainsaw team and radio operators, should they be needed.

The British Royal Navy’s destroyer HMS Manchester was on standby with a helicopter.

“It’s a ghost town out there,” said vacationer Tipper Raven of London, referring to Bermuda’s capital Hamilton.

Most shops and restaurants in the capital were boarded up and residents had bought up emergency supplies such as fuel, batteries, food and candles.

The Bermuda government has warned residents to prepare for an impact similar to that of Hurricane Fabian in 2003, which killed four people and caused millions of dollars of damage.

Due to rigorous construction codes, Bermuda’s buildings are considered some of the most weather-proof in the world, forecasters and analysts say. This could help mitigate any storm damage.

The hurricane center predicted total rainfall of 6 to 9 inches over the Atlantic territory and said Igor’s storm surge could produce significant coastal flooding and destructive waves, particularly along the south coast.

Large sea swells would also affect the U.S. East Coast through Monday, it added.

East of Igor, Tropical Storm Julia posed no threat to land and its 50 mph winds were seen weakening.

In Mexico at the weekend, the remnants of Hurricane Karl dissipated over the mountains of south central Mexico.

Emergency workers reported at least eight people had been killed by the storm in three states. The port city of Veracruz was cut off by flooding from the rest of hard-hit coastal Veracruz state.

Karl appeared to have spared Mexican oil operations from major damage after sweeping through the Bay of Campeche, where Mexico produces more than two-thirds of its 2.55 million barrels per day of crude output.

(Additional reporting by Katharine Jackson in Hamilton, Bermuda, and Luis Manuel Lopez in Villahermosa, Mexico; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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