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Bermuda prepares as Hurricane Florence nears

Written by: Staff
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HAMILTON, Bermuda, Sep 10 (Reuters) Bermuda's government told residents to prepare for powerful winds and high seas on Sunday as Hurricane Florence headed toward the British Atlantic territory and looked poised to strengthen.

After gaining hurricane status early yesterday, the storm's maximum sustained winds were at 90 mph (145 kph), easily making it a Category 1 hurricane, the least powerful on the Saffir-Simpson scale, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Forecasters predicted Florence could intensify to Category 2 as it passed Bermuda today morning. Category 2 hurricanes have top sustained winds of at least 96 mph (154 kph) and are capable of moderate damage.

Tropical storm-force winds were already affecting the island, with a wind gust as high as 66 mph (106 kph) reported, the hurricane center said.

At 0830 ist today, Florence, the second hurricane of the 2006 Atlantic season, was 120 miles (195 km) southwest of Bermuda at 5 pm (2100 GMT) and moving north at 14 mph (23 kph). A turn to the north-northeast was expected on Monday, according to the hurricane center.

The hurricane was expected to stay away from the North American mainland, but was creating risky surf along parts of the eastern United States and the Canadian Maritime provinces, according to forecasters.

Florence's approach prompted Bermuda's government to issue a hurricane warning, telling the 22-mile-long (35-km) island's 63,000 residents they should rush to complete preparations.

WINDS AND WAVES Bermuda could experience 6- to 8-foot (2- to 2.5-metre) storm surges and battering waves as Florence passes, as well as 5 to 8 inches (13 to 20 cm) of rain, forecasters said. Its South Shore beaches were already taking a severe pounding.

Government leaders called up 200 troops of the Bermuda Regiment and placed 250 more on standby for possible deployment after the storm. A shelter opened at midday, although most Bermudans were expected to weather Florence at home.

Hundreds of emergency service workers on the resort island that is also an international finance center were on standby.

Tourists had been issued emergency plans, acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said. Guests at one low-lying hotel moved to another on higher ground.

Acting Premier Ewart Brown said Bermuda was no stranger to hurricanes after Hurricane Emily nearly 20 years ago and 2003's Hurricane Fabian, which killed four and did about 500 million dollar damage.

''It is my genuine belief that, should we sustain serious damage in the wake of this storm, we will rally together once again to ensure that our island is up and running as swiftly as possible,'' Brown said.

REUTERS DKB KP0857

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