With plywood and prayers, Bermuda prepares for Hurricane Fiona

A man boards up a store in Hamilton, Bermuda on September 22, 2022 as Hurricane Fiona churns towards the Atlantic island

Bermudians covered storefronts and stocked up on candles, food and water while Hurricane Fiona churned towards the Atlantic island Thursday as a powerful Category 4 storm, after leaving a trail of destruction across the Caribbean.

The Bermuda Weather Service said the center of Fiona was forecast to pass more than 110 miles (180 kilometers) to the west of the British territory on Friday morning at around 5:00 am (0700 GMT), but with a storm of that strength and size, residents were taking no chances. 

“This storm is going to be worse than the last one,” Richard Hartley, owner of the Torwood Home store in the capital, Hamilton, told AFP as he and his wife covered the shop’s cedar-lined windows with metal sheets. 

“The wind is going to come straight in from the south. So this corner is very exposed to the winds,” he explained.

Fiona is a Category 4 hurricane, the second highest level on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm was packing maximum sustained winds of near 130 miles per hour, with higher gusts.

Hurricane force winds extend more than 70 miles from the storm’s eye, and tropical storm force winds up to 200 miles, the NHC said.

A hurricane warning was in effect in Bermuda Thursday morning, with the NHC predicting up to four inches (10 centimeters) of rain and “large and destructive” waves and storm surge. 

The British territory of some 64,000 people is no stranger to hurricanes — but it is also tiny, just 21 square miles and one of the most remote places in the world, 640 miles from its closest neighbor, the United States.

That means there is nowhere to evacuate to when a big storm hits.

“You have to live with it because you live here, you can’t run anywhere because it’s just a little island,” said JoeAnn Scott, a shopworker in Hamilton.

Bermudians try to “enjoy it as it comes,” she said. “And pray and pray. That’s what we do, pray and party,” she added with a laugh. 

– Construction ‘built to last’ –

Because of the island’s isolation, preparations are taken seriously even when widespread damage is not expected.

Many of the boats docked at Bermuda’s Dinghy Club and Yacht Club were taken out of the water earlier in the week, outdoor furniture at homes and restaurants was taken inside, and the storm shutters bordering windows on most houses were checked. 

Public schools will be closed on Friday, and the government announced that buses will stop running later Thursday afternoon. The Royal Bermuda Regiment was on standby to help with clearing operations.

In addition to laying in supplies of candles and food, some Bermudians were also drawing buckets of water from the tanks at the side of their homes.

There is no fresh water source on the island, so all buildings have white, lime-washed roofs that are used to catch rainwater that is directed into tanks as the main water supply. It is then pumped into homes using electricity. 

Bermuda, whose economy is fueled by international finance and tourism, is wealthy compared to most Caribbean countries, and structures must be built to strict planning codes to withstand storms. Some have done so for centuries. 

“The construction is really built to last, and we don’t see the devastation ever that the Caribbean has experienced over the years,” shop owner Hartley’s wife, Elaine Murray, said.

Fiona killed four people in Puerto Rico earlier this week, according to US media, while one death was reported in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and another in the Dominican Republic. 

President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, a US territory that is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria five years ago.

In the Dominican Republic, President Luis Abinader declared three eastern provinces to be disaster zones.

Farther north in Bermuda, residents continued to watch Fiona closely in case the storm veers further east in the coming hours — but islanders were calm. 

“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes, so no, I’m not worried,” said resident Rochelle Jones.

But if things do go wrong, Bermudians will “all come out together and we help each other,” she said. 

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