© Reuters. Increasing wind pushes waves towards the south shore before the arrival of Hurricane Fiona in Bermuda September 22, 2022. REUTERS/Nicola Muirhead
By Don Burgess and Eric Martyn
HAMILTON, Bermuda/HALIFAX, Nova Scotia (Reuters) – Hurricane Fiona drenched Bermuda with heavy rain and buffeted the Atlantic island with hurricane-force winds on Friday as it tracked northward toward Nova Scotia, where it threatens to become one of the most severe storms in Canadian history.
Fiona had already battered a series of Caribbean islands earlier in the week, killing at least eight people and knocking out power for virtually all of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million people during a sweltering heat wave.
Overnight, the storm approached Bermuda as a monster Category 4 storm but diminished a notch to Category 3 as it passed well to the west of the British territory, which lies 700 miles off the U.S. state of North Carolina. Still, gusts reached as high as 103 mph, with sustained winds of up to 80 mph, the Bermuda Weather Service said in a bulletin.
The Bermuda Electric Light Co, the island’s sole power provider, said about 29,000 customers, or more than 80% of its customer base, had no electricity on Friday morning.
But Michelle Pitcher, the deputy director of the Bermuda Weather Service, said the territory appeared to be largely unscathed.
“It’s been a long night but there are no reports of injuries or fatalities,” she said. “There may be people with roof damage, but so far we haven’t heard of anything bad. As I said, we build our houses strong,” she said.
Many Bermudan homes are built with small shuttered windows, slate roofs and limestone blocks to withstand frequent hurricanes.
At 8 a.m. Eastern, Hurricane Fiona was about 125 miles (200 km) north of Bermuda and about 730 miles (1175 km) south of Halifax, the Nova Scotia capital, moving north-northeast at 25 mph (41 kmh). As a Category 3 hurricane, it was carrying maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kmh), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.
The latest projections show Fiona making its next landfall on Cape Breton Island, home to about 135,000 people, or 15% of Nova Scotia’s population, Environment Canada said on Friday.
A hurricane warning was in effect for most of central and eastern Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. The eye will move across Nova Scotia later Friday, into the Gulf of St. Lawrence on Saturday and over Labrador on Sunday.
Forecasters say areas close to its path could get up to 8 inches (200 mm) of rain, while winds could damage buildings and cause utility outages, with storm surges swamping the coastlines.
Fiona is shaping up to be the most powerful storm to reach Canada since Dorian in September 2019 and Juan in September 2003.
“A lot of the computer forecast models are indicating that this could set a record for the lowest observed atmospheric pressure in Atlantic Canada,” David Neil, an Environment Canada meteorologist. “So this does have a chance to be certainly a very, very intense storm, and a possible record setter.”
Matthew Walker, 31, a FedEx (NYSE:) driver from Cole Harbour, outside Halifax, said he planned to stay indoors with his family, taking a rare break from his usual routine of working six days a week.
“I’ve been through Juan and Dorian, so I feel OK. I know it’s going to be historic but I feel it can’t be worse than Juan,” he said.
The hurricane already displayed its devastating strength in Puerto Rico and other islands of the Caribbean, killing at least four people in Puerto Rico, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said.
U.S. President Joe Biden at a briefing in New York on Thursday said the federal government would fund debris removal, power and water restoration as well as shelter and food for the next month.
An estimated 928,000 homes and businesses were still without power in Puerto Rico on Friday morning after Fiona caused an island-wide power outage for its roughly 3.3 million people, according to Poweroutages.com. [L1N30U0QK]
The numbers indicate a faster pace of restoration than in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, although that Category 4 storm was much more powerful than Fiona, a Category 1 when it crossed Puerto Rico with winds of 85 mph. After Maria, which packed winds of 155 mph, almost all 1.5 million customers on the island had no power for a week.
At that time, the now-bankrupt Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) was still operating the grid. It took PREPA about 11 months to restore power to all customers.