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Close call from Hurricane Lee blacks out much of island

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Major disruption: huge waves batter John Smith’s Bay as Hurricane Lee passes, knocking out power across the island (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Hurricane Lee swept past Bermuda as a Category 1 storm, knocking out power across the island and closing businesses as well as schools as it accelerated towards Canada’s maritime provinces.

The island appeared to avoid any major damage.

The storm, which marked the year’s third major hurricane, coincided with the peak of hurricane season, with another system brewing in the mid-Atlantic.

Hurricane Lee: Mary Prince Emancipation Park in Devonshire (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The Bermuda Weather Service said that at 6pm today Lee was 402 miles north-northwest of the island, moving north at 20mph.

The service reported that another storm, Tropical Depression 15, with winds of 35mph gusting at 46mph, was 1,750 miles to the east-southeast of the island, moving northwest at 13mph.

The storm is expected to be closest to Bermuda within the next three days and is forecast to be 802 miles to the east-southeast at 6pm on Monday.

Michelle Pitcher, the director of the Bermuda Weather Service, said that most systems forming in that region at this time of year “have a general track towards Bermuda due to climatology”.

Hurricane Lee: The Causeway (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

“We need to be mindful that it is too early for models to give any kind of reliable track,” she added.

“Also, we need to note that Hurricane Lee would have brought cooler ocean water to the surface, which will assist in limiting any development of cyclones in the immediate future and that the weakening of Lee as it approached and passed Bermuda was assisted by the cooler waters that Franklin and Idalia stirred up.”

A small craft warning is in effect from tomorrow through Sunday morning.

BWS, in its long-term forecast at 6pm, said: “Aside from some weak trough features moving across the area with some spotty mostly light shower activity, it promises to be mostly fine and dry with some long periods of sunshine. Moderate seas are expected through the long-term period.

“However, although not stated on the forecasts currently, long period swells may begin to develop ahead of what would be Hurricane Nigel.”

The BWS projections had the latest storm hitting Category 1 strength by Sunday night and building into a Category 3 storm by the middle of next week.

Traffic on the Causeway gets a dousing from Hurricane Lee (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

AccuWeather reported that the system, which would be dubbed Nigel if it attained storm strength, could follow a similar course to Lee. The service cited its potential to develop rapidly, as Hurricane Lee did on its approach to the northern Caribbean.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Burch, the Acting Minister of National Security, said the island had weathered Lee successfully.

He said: “The collective efforts of our residents, businesses and response teams have proven once again that our island community is prepared and vigilant when it matters most.

“I commend everyone for taking this storm seriously and their dedication to safeguarding our island home.

“However, we must remain vigilant, as weather forecasters are currently tracking Tropical Depression 15, which, though distant in the Atlantic, is forecast to head in our general direction by next week.

“Our island's preparedness is an ongoing effort and we must remain proactive in responding to potential threats.”

Important updates

• Engineers with the Ministry of Public Works assessed the Causeway this morning and confirmed that it remains structurally sound and cleared for regular use.

• Public transportation: due to power failures at the St George’s and Devonshire Bus depots, public bus services will remain suspended for today and will resume normal services tomorrow.

• All ferry services, except for the Orange Route (Dockyard to St George’s), will resume normal services tomorrow morning.

• The Department of Marine and Ports is in the process of repairing storm-related damage to a dock in Dockyard, which is expected to result in services to Dockyard running slower than normal.

• Parks and beaches: the Lifeguard Service plans to resume normal duties on Sunday, weather permitting. Assessments conducted by the Department of Parks reported no major incidents in regard to tree damage. However, there were a number of locations where branches were obstructing lane(s) of traffic and were removed at the time of assessment by individual Parks’ personnel.

• Airport operations resumed as of 1pm today. Travellers should check with their respective airlines for the most up-to-date flight information.

• All in-person government services resumed today at 12pm.

• The Tynes Bay Public drop-off and main plant remain open tomorrow, according to their regular schedule and will be available through the weekend. Some residents’ garbage was not collected owing to trees blocking garbage trucks. Affected residents can expect their trash to be collected by tomorrow.

• Marsh Folly commercial drop-off will be open as normal tomorrow from 7.30am to 12pm, with the public drop-off available through the weekend.

The BWS reports that the latest information from the National Hurricane Centre indicates that sustained Tropical Storm force winds were expected to exit our north marine area by 3pm.

While the immediate threat from Hurricane Lee has diminished, the seas remain rough and residents and visitors should not go swimming in the sea for the time being.

Colonel Burch added: "The safety and wellbeing of our residents and visitors remain our top priority. We will continue closely monitoring weather conditions to ensure that Bermuda remains secure.

“I know that people will be busy today and over the weekend cleaning up following the storm. I urge everyone to exercise caution and safety.

"I want to thank not only the public for its resilience but also the hard-working members of the Emergency Measures Organisation and our dedicated Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation team for providing the necessary guidance to ensure the public remained safe."

Outages, which Belco has attributed to overgrown vegetation, started by late morning on Thursday. There were 11,300 customers in the dark by 10am – one-third of households. There were 3,509 customers still without power at 5pm last night.

Wayne Caines, president of the power company, stated that much of the blackout was due to “foliage and debris hitting wires, which causes the wires to come into contact and trip circuits”.

Hurricane Lee: Mary Prince Emancipation Park (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Laura Husband, Digicel’s head of customer care, said service interruptions were mainly tied to power outages.

She said the company was dealing with “a few fibre breaks” and that customers with issues unrelated to power should call 500-5000.

One Communications said staff were still evaluating the status of its network.

The Government deemed the island’s roads safe for travel by 10am yesterday and the Causeway remained open through the storm – although the road took the brunt of waves driven by storm-force gusts.

Waves were also carried by the southerly winds on to South Road in Smith’s, which had to be closed between John Smith’s Bay and Watch Hill Park.

Hurricane Lee: Warwick Long Bay (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Lee at one point built into a Category 5 hurricane, fuelled by record warm waters near the Caribbean, but it dwindled during its northerly turn – although its size meant the island endured a lengthy tropical storm warning.

The system sped up, passing about 170 miles to the island’s west at about 10pm on Thursday.

The Bermuda Weather Service reported winds of more than 50mph, gusting at 75mph at LF Wade International Airport. Commissioner’s Point in Dockyard logged winds of 65mph gusting at 83mph as a rain band passed over the Island.

Seas peaked at 30ft outside the island’s reefs and were predicted to remain rough into today. Beaches along the South Shore took a battering.

Because of the storm’s size, tropical storm warnings were in effect yesterday on a swath of New England’s coast and Nova Scotia.

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Published September 16, 2023 at 8:00 am (Updated September 16, 2023 at 8:05 am)

Close call from Hurricane Lee blacks out much of island

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