HAMILTON (Bermuda), Oct 18, 2014:

Hurricane Gonzalo scored a direct hit on Bermuda yesterday evening, knocking out most of the electricity there as it lashed the tiny Atlantic island chain with pounding surf, drenching rains and sustained winds topping 161km per hour.

The strongest storm to sweep the subtropical British territory in a decade made full landfall at 8.30pm local time as the large eye of Gonzalo, 56km wide, crossed the south-central coast of Bermuda, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami reported.

The Category 2 hurricane was packing sustained winds of up to 175kph, down from 140 miles per 225kph earlier in the day, but remained a dangerous storm, the forecasters said. Hurricane force winds extended up to 95km from its centre.

The low-lying archipelago has a total area of only 54 sq km, and the hurricane centre warned that once the eye had passed, the islands would still be battered with damaging winds and a life-threatening storm surge.

Flooding was reported in some areas and many banana trees had been knocked over. The islands’ only power company, Bermuda Electric Light Co (Belco), reported nearly 31,000 customers were without electricity, out of 36,000 metered connections.

“Right now, where I am, we are hearing rain lashing at the walls and windows, which are starting to leak, and intense gusts of wind pounding the building, making the glass pulsate,” said Susan McGrath-Smith, spokeswoman for Belco, who was riding out the storm at the company’s headquarters with her two dogs, Marley and Abby.

“We have also heard transformers explode outside,” she added.

Gonzalo peaked on Thursday as a Category 4 hurricane with 230kph, and is expected to continue weakening through the weekend.

Bermuda, a tourist destination and affluent insurance industry hub about 1,030km off the coast of North Carolina, was still recovering from Tropical Storm Fay, which swept over the islands early on Sunday with near hurricane-force winds of 110kph, and later turned into a hurricane.

The governor of Bermuda, George Fergusson, advised the territory’s 65,000 residents yesterday to stay off the roads and listen to emergency bulletins.

“I wish everyone all the best, for the next 24 hours. Good luck, and look after each other,” he said in an emergency broadcast.

A British Royal Navy warship, HMS Argyll, was heading for Bermuda to help with post-Gonzalo relief efforts, the government said.

Gonzalo was the Atlantic’s first Category 4 hurricane since 2011.

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