Florence intensified into the second hurricane of the Atlantic season Sunday, forcing shopkeepers and homeowners in Bermuda to board up windows and doors. One closed flower shop posted a sign: "We've gone away to chase away Florence. Back Tuesday."
The Category 1 hurricane, which had maximum sustained winds near 90 mph by mid-morning, was not expected to strengthen further as it passes Bermuda, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The center of the storm was expected to pass "a short distance" to the west of the archipelago of tiny islands on Monday morning and preparations to protect life and property should be completed, the hurricane center said.
With hurricane-force winds extending up to 60 miles from the storm's eye, even a near-miss could cause substantial damage, forecasters said.
Skies thickened with heavy clouds and waves began to build Sunday as gusty winds blew in spits of rain and usually tranquil ports turned into white-capped harbors. With the storm thundering toward Bermuda, many residents had hauled their yachts onto beaches.
Bermuda issued a hurricane warning for the British island chain of 65,000 permanent residents. The hurricane center said tropical storm-force winds began affecting the mid-Atlantic territory by early Sunday afternoon. Monday morning a wind gust of 79 mph was reported at a Bermuda weather station.
Deputy Premier Ewart Brown told a news conference 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 left many of the territory's famed golf courses in ruins.
The storm was expected to veer from the U.S. as it turned north toward Bermuda, 640 miles east of the U.S. coast. But forecasters said it was already causing high surf and strong rip currents along parts of America's eastern seaboard.
At 11 a.m. EDT the center of the hurricane was roughly 60 miles northwest of Bermuda and was moving toward the north-northeast at about 13 mph. It was expected to speed up during Monday. Bermuda was expected to get 2 to 4 inches of rain, with up to 6 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.
Authorities were keeping a part-time regiment on call to help respond to the hurricane at strategic points, including a causeway linking the main island with St. George's parish. Part of the causeway, which the government closed to traffic early Sunday night until the storm passed, was swept away when Fabian struck.
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 ando todo 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. Other hotels, playing up the island chain's vaunted ability to withstand a fierce storm, planned "hurricane parties" for their remaining guests in the honeymoon and tax haven.
Acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said all tourists were given the opportunity to leave. "Those still here have chosen to stay," Young said.