Bermuda is bracing itself for Hurricane Nicole, a strong Category Four storm, as it churned toward the islands, with forecasters warning of a possible direct hit. The storm's top sustained winds have increased to near 215 kilometres per hour (130 miles).
Hurricanes of this intensity passing close to Bermuda are rare. The tiny British islands in the Atlantic only experienced 3 major hurricanes in the past 70 years that passed within a radius of 65 nautical miles.
"On the forecast track, the core of Nicole will pass over or near Bermuda on Thursday," the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
— Eric Blake (@EricBlake12) October 13, 2016
While Bermuda has sturdy infrastructure and is accustomed to storms, government officials said people were to prepare for the hurricane and remain indoors on Wednesday and Thursday.
“We have a long night in front of us,” Premier Michael Dunkley said.
We better be prepared for the onslaught of hurricane force winds, but if we heed the warnings, we will be in a strong position once the storm blows through.
Authorities closed schools and government offices, and buildings were boarded up as rains hit the islands on Wednesday. Airlines have cancelled flights to the islands.
"I believe we are generally ready for it," Dunkley said. "Now we just have to hope and pray for the best."
A dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as much as 2-2.5 meters (6 to 8 feet) above normal tide levels, accompanied by "large and destructive" waves, the NHC said.
— Mike Thomas (@MikeTFox5) October 13, 2016
Nicole is expected to produce total rain accumulation of 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches) over Bermuda, it added. The storm may also bring tornadoes Wednesday night and early Thursday.
The hurricane has kicked up heavy surf in islands south of Bermuda, including Puerto Rico. Authorities said they were looking for the body of a surfer who disappeared on Tuesday. He was identified as 37-year-old Gabriel Pantoja.
Last week, Hurricane Matthew caused devastation in Haiti and other Caribbean countries before sweeping up the US southeast coast.