Shopkeepers and homeowners boarded up windows and doors, with one closed flower shop bearing the sign: "We've gone away to chase away Florence. Back Tuesday."
The Category 1 hurricane, which had had maximum sustained winds near 90 mph early Sunday afternoon, was expected to become a Category 2 hurricane as it passes Bermuda, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was too early to tell whether this wealthy British enclave, with its hurricane-resistant homes and sturdy infrastructure, would take a direct hit.
But preparations to protect life and property "should be rushed to completion" as the center of the strengthening storm was expected to pass "very near" Bermuda on Monday morning, the hurricane center said.
Skies turned gray and waves began to build Sunday morning as gusty winds blew in spits of rain and usually tranquil ports turned into white-capped harbors. With the storm thundering toward the archipelago of tiny islands, residents had hauled their yachts onto beaches or secured their moorings.
Bermuda issued a hurricane warning for the island chain of 65,000 residents. The hurricane center said tropical storm force winds were already affecting the mid-Atlantic territory on Sunday afternoon.
During a news conference, Deputy Premier Ewart Brown said the anticipated "ferocious impact" of Florence would serve as "a test of our resilience as a country." He reminded islanders of the rebuilding effort in 2003, when Hurricane Fabian the strongest storm to hit Bermuda in 50 years killed four people, tore the roofs off several homes and ruined golf courses.
The storm was expected to veer from the U.S. coast as it turns north toward Bermuda, 640 miles east of the U.S. Coast. But forecasters said it could create high surf and dangerous rip currents along parts of America's eastern seaboard.
"Those waves will affect a good portion of the U.S. East Coast from basically Florida all the way up to the Cape Cod area" starting Sunday through the early part of next week, hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said.
At 2 p.m. EDT, the center of the hurricane was about 225 miles south-southwest of Bermuda and was moving toward the north-northwest at about 13 mph. Bermuda was expected to get 5 to 8 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches possible in some areas.
Bermuda International Airport was closed late Saturday and was expected to remain shuttered until Tuesday morning. Flights from New York and Miami scheduled to arrive late Saturday were canceled.
All ferry and bus services were halted. The territory's public utility announced that residents should prepare for prolonged electricity outages. Public schools and government offices were ordered closed Monday.
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. Many power and phone lines are underground.
At Pitts Bay marina, Bermudian Alan Hughes moved his 17-foot Boston Whaler away from the dock wall and tied it down.
"We are obviously concerned and cautious," he said.
At the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, the hotel distributed a disaster plan which included provisions for evacuation and told guests that patio furniture would be removed from their rooms.
Roy Riggio, a 72-year-old volunteer counselor with Medicare from New Canaan, Connecticut, said he and his wife, Barbara, arrived in Bermuda on Friday.
As other guests at the Fairmont were leaving, Riggio said he wanted a "window seat" at the hotel's restaurant on Sunday night to watch the storm.
"If not, I'm going to take pictures from my room I have a room up at the top of the hotel and I want to get some photos. I'm not a glutton for punishment, but it's exciting," he said.
Acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said all tourists were given the opportunity to leave. "Those still here have chosen to stay," Young said.
Several hotels, playing up the British territory's vaunted ability to withstand a fierce storm, planned "hurricane parties" for their remaining guests.
Florence follows on the heels of Ernesto, which was briefly the season's first hurricane before weakening and drenching the U.S. East Coast last week. The storm was blamed for nine deaths in the United States and two in Haiti.
Florence developed in the peak of hurricane season over warm Atlantic water, the source of energy for storm development this time of year. Forecasters said the waters are not as warm as last year's storm season, which had a record 28 named storms and 15 hurricanes, including Katrina.