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Hurricane Gonzalo pounds Bermuda


Boats were stacked up out of harm's way as Hurricane Gonzalo approached  Puerto Rico (AP)

Boats were stacked up out of harm's way as Hurricane Gonzalo approached Puerto Rico (AP)

Boats were stacked up out of harm's way as Hurricane Gonzalo approached Puerto Rico (AP)

Hurricane Gonzalo crushed trees, flattened power lines and damaged Bermuda's main hospital during an hours-long battering that was the second pummelling of the tiny British territory by a powerful storm in less than a week.

The storm's centre crossed over Bermuda during Friday night and its winds and heavy surf whipped at the island early today before Gonzalo quickly moved northward over the Atlantic, and away.

Forecasters warned of the danger of a storm surge of 10 feet that could cause widespread flooding, but a full assessment of damages likely wouldn't come until daylight. A hurricane warning was downgraded to a tropical storm warning.

Just under half of the island's 70,000 people were reported without power late Friday as the hurricane roared through, just days after Tropical Storm Fay damaged homes and also knocked down trees and power lines.

"To be struck twice by two different cyclones is unusual, to say the least," said Max Mayfield, a former director of the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami.

Gonzalo approached Bermuda as a Category three storm then weakened a bit to Category two strength just before coming ashore with sustained winds of 110 mph. The Bermuda Weather Service said hurricane-force winds would whip at the island into the early hours of Saturday, and tropical storm-force winds would continue until around sunrise.

Even during the storm, people reported destroyed porches and other damage. Part of the roof at Bermuda's main hospital was damaged and there was water damage in the new intensive care unit, police spokesman Dwayne Caines reported.

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Flooding was the main concern on Bermuda, which has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world and is known for strict building codes that ensure homes can withstand sustained winds of at least 110 mph.

The last major hurricane to strike Bermuda was Fabian in September 2003. That Category three storm killed three police officers and another person while causing hundreds of thousands of pounds in damage as it tore off roofs, pulverised trees and flooded famed golf courses. It also damaged the causeway linking the airport to most of Bermuda and left tens of thousands of homes and businesses without power.

Marlie Powell, the owner of Kingston House Bed & Breakfast, said in a phone interview that she was still recovering from Tropical Storm Fay when Gonzalo hit. She said Fay toppled two large trees on her property.

"We only had very few days to clean and get the trees out of our house," she said. "There's a lot of loose debris around the island already, which is not good."

A 436ft Royal Navy frigate with a crew of some 180 sailors was expected to arrive Sunday in Bermuda to help with post-storm recovery efforts.

The US National Hurricane Centre said the storm weakened some more as it moved away from Bermuda on a track that would take it past Newfoundland and across the Atlantic to Britain and Ireland.

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