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Fearsome Fiona grazes Bermuda

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Overturned: Ground equipment at the Post Office sorting facility at LF Wade International Airport was apparently thrown over a fence by Hurricane Fiona (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Bermuda had a narrow escape after Hurricane Fiona grazed past the island in the early hours of yesterday.

Although gusts of up to 113mph were recorded in the west end at the height of the hurricane, damage was largely limited to downed trees and telegraph poles. Fears of three-foot high flooding and a storm surge did not materialise.

Tropical storm winds began battering the island late on Thursday evening, and increased to hurricane strength in the early hours of yesterday as the Category 4 storm reached its closest point to Bermuda.

Down and out: residents clear debris from Lover’s Lane in Paget (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

But by 9am, with Fiona more than 120 miles north of Bermuda and continuing to move away, the hurricane warning issued by the Bermuda Weather Service was reduced to a tropical storm warning.

At a 10.30am press conference yesterday, Michael Weeks, Minister for National Security, warned that the island was still being hit by “hazardous” winds, and urged residents to remain indoors.

“It’s still not safe out there, so unless you have to be out on the streets, please stay off the roads,” he said.

But he added that the emergency services had already launched an assessment of the damage and were preparing for any clean-up operation.

Lieutenant-Colonel Ben Beasley, commander of the Royal Bermuda Regiment, confirmed that reconnaissance patrols had carried out an early morning inspection of main roads.

He said: “Immediate response teams are spread out across the island clearing the main thoroughfares, most importantly towards the hospital and other emergency service headquarters.”

Major blockages occurred on York Street in St George’s, Cobbs Hill Road and Tamarind Vale in Warwick, King Street in Hamilton, Langton Hill in Pembroke, and Collector’s Hill in Smith’s.

Hurricane Fiona leaves its mark as multiple watercraft are beached at Elys Harbour but damage was limited in the western areas otherwise (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Colonel Beasley added that the Emergency Measures Organisation had received a number of reports of boats either sinking or being tossed onto dry land.

Energy supplier Belco also had crews out in force as soon as hurricane force winds had abated. Almost 30,000 customers were without electricity by the time Fiona had passed the island, and teams were on the road by late morning, repairing downed lines and damaged poles.

By 9pm yesterday, power had been restored to almost 19,000 homes, but 11,000 customers - mainly in Pembroke, Paget, and Warwick - were still without electricity.

Despite the limited damage, Fiona did manage to cause extensive disruptions. Schools and government offices were closed for the day yesterday, and retailers also opted to shut up shop, although by evening, several bars and restaurants on Front Street were open for business, and appeared to be doing brisk trade.

Several flights were also cancelled after LF Wade International Airport was forced to close on Thursday evening.

Yesterday Aaron Adderley, president of airport operator Skyport, said that there was no notable damage to the airport’s terminal and airfield facilities – but that all scheduled flights were cancelled throughout the day.

Last night Mr Adderley said: “Flights largely operated as per normal on Thursday in advance of Hurricane Fiona, with the airport closing for operations at 9pm, following the early departure of British Airways flight 158 to London Heathrow.

“Following a clean-up of debris that washed ashore onto the airfield, with assistance from the Royal Bermuda Regiment and Public Works Department, the airport opened late this afternoon.

“However, all commercial flights for Friday were cancelled by the airlines on Thursday in anticipation of the storm. We expect a normal and busy day of flight operations tomorrow – Saturday.

“Passengers travelling are strongly urged to contact their respective airlines for any flight updates.”

One cruise shipalso ditched plans for a visit to the island. The Norwegian Getaway was due to arrive at Dockyard this morning for a two-day stay.

But on Thursday Norwegian Cruise Line switched the route because of fears of high seas. The vessel instead left New York for a weekend voyage to Portland, Maine, and St John’s, Newfoundland.

The emergency shelter at CedarBridge Academy in Devonshire was also called into action. Twelve people spent the night at the facility, where support staff described a largely uneventful night.

Power was knocked out at about 3am but generators kicked in. At noon yesterday, people who had registered for shelter were having lunch as staff awaited the all-clear to unlock the doors.

By mid afternoon Minister Weeks was able to confirm that the island was “back up and running” after emergency response teams had conducted necessary assessments, clearance and restoration work.

Mr Weeks said: “By all accounts, we had a very long night and some very tense moments during the early morning hours. But in true Bermuda resilience fashion, we withstood the effects of Hurricane Fiona and thankfully, there was no loss of life or serious injuries.

“Bermuda was fortunate during this incredibly serious and dangerous category four hurricane, compared to other countries in Fiona’s wake. And we consider this a true testament to our readiness and preparedness.”

Some roads remained closed into the afternoon, including sections of South Shore Road, and Berry Hill Road.

“There are also some minor roads that still have obstructions and the public is encouraged to use caution as they travel around,” Mr Weeks added.

He said that a decision on whether public schools will open on Monday was to be made later following an assessment of bus routes by the Department of Public Transport.

He added that ferry services would be suspended until today 9am today.

In an update last night, a Government spokeswoman said: “The DPT advised that the bus service will remain inoperable as power has not yet been restored at the bus depots.

“Belco is working with DPT to ensure that the restoration of power occurs as soon as possible to enable the restart of the bus service.

Government’s public services are expected to resume as normal on Monday, as are schools.

The Emergency Measures Organisation and Royal Bermuda Regiment were set to stand down by 6pm last night.

Mr Weeks said: “I wish to thank all of our EMO partner agencies for their tireless work throughout the night and members of the public for heeding the warnings and advisories.

“We are truly grateful for the public’s support and co-operation during this very concerning time for our island.”

In a final advisory issued by the Bermuda Weather Service yesterday afternoon, Hurricane Fiona was more than 400 miles north of Bermuda.

It was forecast to continue tracking north and reach Nova Scotia this morning, by which time it was expected to have weakened to a Category 2 hurricane.

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Published September 24, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated September 24, 2022 at 12:55 am)

Fearsome Fiona grazes Bermuda

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