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Florence becomes a hurricane



Published: Mon, September 11, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



Experts couldn't tell if the hurricane was going to make a direct hit.

HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) -- Florence intensified into the second hurricane of the Atlantic season Sunday as it neared Bermuda, where residents stocked up on provisions and formed long lines at gas stations in the lashing rain.

Florence was expected to pass "very near" the tiny British territory today, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. But it was too early to tell whether it will make a direct hit.

Preparations to protect life and property "should be rushed to completion," the hurricane center said.

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 Sunday evening, was expected to become a Category 2 hurricane as it passes Bermuda, according to the hurricane center.

With hurricane-force winds that extend up to 60 miles from the storm's eye, even a near-miss could cause substantial damage, forecasters said.

Expected path

The storm was expected to veer from the U.S. coast as it turns north toward Bermuda, 640 miles east of the U.S. But forecasters said it was creating high surf and dangerous rip currents in the Bahamas and 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.

In Bermuda, 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.

Authorities urged residents to stock up on hurricane supplies, secure their homes, lawn furniture and any other loose items and stay home to keep the roads clear for emergency vehicles.

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 by Sunday afternoon.

At 8 p.m. EDT, the center of the hurricane was about 150 miles southwest of Bermuda and was moving toward the north at about 14 mph. Bermuda was expected to get 5 to 8 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches possible in some areas.

What official said

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.

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 today.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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