HAMILTON, Bermuda - Florence intensified into the second hurricane of the Atlantic season Sunday as it headed for Bermuda, where residents installed storm shutters and hauled their yachts onto beaches.
Florence was expected to reach the tiny British territory Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. But was too early to tell whether it will make a direct hit.
The storm was a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 80 mph with higher gusts. Florence was expected to become a Category 2 hurricane as it passes Bermuda, the hurricane center said.
The storm was expected to veer away from the U.S. coast as it turns north toward Bermuda, but forecasters said its large size could also create high surf and rip currents along parts of the eastern seaboard.
"Those waves will affect a good portion of the U.S. East Coast from basically Florida all the way up to the Cape Cod area" starting Sunday through the early part of next week, hurricane specialist Stacy Stewart said. "When those large swells come rolling in to the coastline they tend to produce dangerous and potentially deadly rip currents."
Bermuda issued a hurricane warning. The government urged its 65,000 residents to take precautions and volunteers were mobilized. The hurricane center said tropical storm force winds could hit the North Atlantic Island by Sunday afternoon.
"We are asking residents to please stay home. We are urging the public's cooperation so that emergency vehicles will have free passage on the roads," Derrick Burgess, minister of public safety, said at a news conference. "Also, we are discouraging the public from sightseeing as this puts everyone at risk."
He also encouraged the public to stock up on hurricane supplies and secure their homes, lawn furniture and any other loose items which could be affected by high winds.
At 8 a.m. EDT, the center of the hurricane was about 305 miles south-southwest of Bermuda and was moving toward the north-northwest near 15 mph.
The hurricane center said Bermuda was expected to get 5 to 8 inches of rain, with up to 10 inches possible in some areas.
In boatyards and marinas in Bermuda - a wealthy island chain 640 miles east of the U.S. coast - boat owners dragged their yachts onto beaches or secured their moorings.
At Pitts Bay marina, Bermudian Alan Hughes moved his 17-foot Boston Whaler away from the dock wall and tied it down.
"We are obviously concerned and cautious. It will be a tidal issue, with up to five or six foot tidal swells," he said.
At the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, the hotel distributed a disaster plan - which included provisions for evacuation - and told guests that patio furniture would be removed from their rooms.
Roy Riggio, a 72-year-old volunteer counselor with Medicare from New Canaan, Conn., said he and his wife, Barbara, arrived in Bermuda on Friday.
As other guests at the Fairmont were leaving, Riggio said he didn't believe the hurricane would deter him and his wife and he wanted a "window seat" at the hotel's restaurant on Sunday night to watch the storm.
"If not, I'm going to take pictures from my room - I have a room up at the top of the hotel - and I want to get some photos. I'm not a glutton for punishment, but it's exciting," he said.
Authorities said they were closing the island's only airport, Bermuda International Airport. Flights from New York and Miami scheduled to arrive late Saturday have been canceled.
Ferries stopped running Saturday afternoon and bus service was to end Sunday at 1 p.m.. Authorities have opened a shelter in the island's center, and the public utility has warned there may be power outages due to the high winds.
Public schools and government offices will be closed Monday.
Acting Police Commissioner Roseanda Young said arrangements have been made for tourists to leave after the airport shuts down, with commercial airlines and private jets helping out.
"All tourists have been given the opportunity to leave. Those still here have chosen to stay," she said.
Large ocean swells were affecting Bermuda and the northern coasts of the Caribbean islands, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the hurricane center said.
Bermuda requires newly built houses to withstand sustained winds of 110 mph. It also has a sturdy infrastructure with many of its power and phone lines underground.
Hurricane Fabian killed four people when it struck in 2003 as the strongest storm to hit Bermuda in 50 years. Fabian, a Category 3 hurricane with 120 mph winds, tore the roofs off several homes and left many of Bermuda's famed golf courses in ruins.
Florence follows on the heels of Tropical Storm Ernesto, which was briefly the season's first hurricane before weakening and drenching the East Coast last week. The storm was blamed for nine deaths in the United States and two in Haiti.