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Island buffeted by Gabrielle

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Bermuda was buffeted by gale force winds, heavy rains and thunderstorms through the night as Tropical Storm Gabrielle brushed by the Island.

The weather system was expected to come within 25 miles of Bermuda at 1am today — delivering winds of up to 75mph and dumping up to five inches of rain.

Last night the Bermuda Weather Service (BWS) predicted that sustained tropical storm force winds of up to 65 knots (75mph) would continue through the night and into this morning — with hurricane force gusts up to 75 knots (86mph) whipping through exposed areas. The winds are expected to dip to around 30 knots (35mph) by this afternoon.

A brief lull in winds was expected as the eye of the storm passed nearby, with tropical moisture lingering through to the end of the week, along with a few showers and a chance of thunder.

Speaking to The Royal Gazette at around 8.30pm yesterday, BWS Deputy Director James Dodgson said: “It's fair to describe this as a very strong tropical storm and we're very much in the brunt of it now.

“We're expecting further deterioration through the night, with hurricane force gusts up to 75 knots. However, because those speeds are not sustained, it's still classified as a tropical storm rather than a hurricane.”

Despite the potentially treacherous conditions, Gabrielle caused few disruptions as it made its approach yesterday afternoon.

Schools and Government offices remained open, as did commercial businesses, shops and restaurants, while the majority of public transport services kept running into the night.

However, last night the Emergency Measures Organisation (EMO) confirmed that all public schools will be closed today “out of an abundance of caution”.

Warwick Academy said it would also be closed.

The EMO pointed out that there would be “a strong likelihood that some roads will be impassible” today, causing potential delays for commuters.

The EMO decided to keep the Causeway open to traffic heading east throughout yesterday. However, a number of transport services did become casualties of the weather.

Transport chiefs decided early in the day to pull the plug on the St George's ferry service, and travellers hoping to escape the Island by air were left frustrated, with many flights cancelled.

Although LF Wade International Airport remained open, flights to and from London Gatwick, Toronto, Miami, New York and Newark were grounded.

Air operations manager George Rhodes told The Royal Gazette that forecasted high winds were to blame.

“The airport is open and operating normally and [we] do not anticipate any adverse effects or restrictions to our operations,” he said.

British Airways spokeswoman Sallie Singleton said: “As a result of Tropical Storm Gabrielle moving into the region, we have taken the decision to cancel our flight to London on Tuesday, September 10.

“We have notified customers and are working quickly to identify alternative options for rebooking. We encourage customers to call British Airways directly on 1-800-247-9297 to rebook or receive a full refund. We apologise for any inconvenience caused.”

Other airlines affected were WestJet, American Airlines and United Airlines. JetBlue's flights from JFK and Boston landed safely, as did Delta's plane from New York LaGuardia.

The cruise ship Norwegian Dawn — scheduled to depart yesterday afternoon — was forced to extend its stay on the Island because of the weather, remaining at Dockyard's Heritage Wharf overnight. She is expected to set sail at around 9am today.

Troy Pitcher of Meyer Shipping, said: “The weather didn't permit her to get off the dock.”

Mr Pitcher also confirmed that the weather had forced Norwegian Breakaway to delay its arrival today.

Instead of pulling in to Dockyard at the regular time of around 7.30am, the mega cruise ship will remain in calmer waters and be met by pilot boat at around noon.

Following an EMO meeting to assess the storm's projected course last night, chairman and Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley said: “Gabrielle has proven somewhat unpredictable and so I caution everyone to take this storm seriously and to prepare for the forecast conditions.

“The relevant Government agencies are well prepared as are our private sector partners. People should stay inside and travel on our roads only when absolutely necessary. Everyone should stay safe.”

A Government spokeswoman said: “As a public safety precaution, the Ministry is advising motorists, particularly cyclists who are travelling about the Island today to use extra care and caution when traversing the Island's roads and bridges.

“It is also advised that residents secure outdoor furniture, potted plants, garbage bins and any other items that could be blown about by the wind.”

Belco reported a weather-related outage in St George's, affecting about 730 customers in the Cut Road, Fort William area yesterday afternoon, but power was restored to the majority of customers within a few hours.

And last night a company spokesman reported “three small outages with a total 156 customers without power”, although the statement did not specify the location of the blackouts.

“Crews are working to restore power, and will continue to do so throughout the night, as long as working conditions are safe, and as long as restoration makes sense in light of storm conditions,” the spokesman said.

“Belco's Operations Centre operates 24 hours every day, and will be continually monitoring the electricity transmission and distribution system, as well as the storm.

“As the storm nears its closest point of approach, we would expect weather-related outages to increase. Customers are advised to wait until the storm subsides to report outages by phoning 955.

“Belco Operations Centre will be aware of outages affecting circuits and branch lines. It is important to call 955 so that smaller or isolated outages are recorded in Belco's automated Outage Management System. One call is sufficient to report an outage.

“Belco will provide a thorough update first thing in the morning when the effects of the storm can be assessed. We encourage customers to put safety first for family, friends and loved ones. BELCO will be working to restore power efficiently and safely.”

Henry Durham, a director at Gorham's, said there had been no rush on storm supplies, other than a steady sale of batteries.

“There was nothing to write home to mama about really,” he said. “We are thinking that people are either well-prepared or are unaware of it. I think that's what it is. People don't hear the word 'hurricane' so it's no big deal.”

A number of scheduled events were hit by the weather. An entertainment audition organised by the Department of Tourism due to be held last night was postponed until today at Chewstick between 6 and 9pm.

L'Alliance Française des Bermudes cancelled its showing at BUEI of the French film 'Paris-Manhattan', rescheduling it to October 8.

A new text message system, set up to alert Islanders of the prospect of a storm, suffered teething troubles. Cell One and Digicel customers should have received texts advising them of the tropical storm warning early in the morning, but some reported receiving delayed messages.

Digicel marketing director Shane Mora said: “The SMS was broadcast to all of our customers today as agreed with the EMO. Our transmission commencement was delayed due to internal protocols but Digicel will amend our protocols to ensure a speedier deployment in the future.”

No one at Cell One could be reached.

The hurricane season officially began June 1 and ends on November 30. The weakest type of hurricane, a category one, typically has sustained winds of 64 to 82 knots (74 to 95mph), according to the National Hurricane Center in the US.

* Were you affected by the storm? E-mail sstrangeways@royalgazette.com or call 278-0155.

Wave action at Watch Hill Park as Tropical Storm Gabrielle approaches. (Photo by Mark Tatem)
Where you can find out more

The Ministry is advising members of the public to get the latest weather information from the following sources:

* Hurricane preparedness: www.emobermuda.com

* Online weather updates: www.weather.bm

* Facebook updates: https://www.facebook.com/dciBermuda

* Televised weather updates: CableVision Ch 4 and WOW Ch 100

* For the public forecast: dial 977

* For the current observation: dial 9771

* For the marine forecast: dial 9772

* For latest warnings and tropical information: dial 9773

* Government's emergency broadcast station is on 100.1 FM.

For flight information call:

* American Airlines: 293-1420

* British Airways: 1-800-247-9297 or 293-1944

* WestJet: 293-1333

* Air Canada: 293-1777

* United Airlines: 293-3092

* Delta Airlines: 1-800-221-1212

* JetBlue: 293-3608

* US Airways: 1-800-622-1015

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Published September 10, 2013 at 11:25 am (Updated September 11, 2013 at 5:34 am)

Island buffeted by Gabrielle

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