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Hurricane slams into Bermuda; storm tests residents' resilience

Saturday, September 6, 2003

HAMILTON, Bermuda -- The most powerful hurricane to hit Bermuda in 50 years slammed into the island chain, unleashing winds that snapped off palm trees, knocked out power and tested the wealthy British territory's vaunted ability to withstand a fierce storm.

Fabian plowed into the island chain Friday afternoon with its 120 mph winds, toppling trees and ripping off rooftops. By nightfall, the winds eased somewhat as it pushed northward away from Bermuda.

The storm knocked out power in 25,000 homes, tore slate tiles from roofs, covered roads with debris and made a causeway connecting Bermuda's main island to the airport impassable. Only minor injuries were reported.

"My neighbor is using a mop to hold up her kitchen ceiling," said Honey Adams, a spokeswoman for the Bermuda government whose neighbor lost part of her roof. "The golf course is a disaster area."

A satellite dish and instruments to measure wind speeds were ripped from their moorings and blown away from Bermuda's Weather Service, which was trying to make speedy repairs.

"It's terrific to watch but it's still intimidating," said Susan Chandler, 52, of Manhattan, who watched Fabian from her rattling hotel windows. "There's so much sea-spray. ... It looks like it's snowing."

Although Bermuda hasn't seen a Category 3 hurricane since 1953, when Hurricane Edna arrived here with 115 mph winds, the British territory requires newly built houses to be able to withstand sustained winds of 110 mph and has underground power and phone lines.

The building codes and superior infrastructure make Bermuda a safer bet than many Caribbean islands for surviving powerful storms.

Still, islanders bolted themselves inside homes or fled to generator-equipped hotels, some of which reported gushing leaks. Airports closed and all flights to Bermuda were canceled. Hundreds were evacuated from low-lying areas.

Tourist Robert O'Leary, 59, of Centerville, Nova Scotia, was in Bermuda visiting his pregnant daughter, who was a week late delivering.

"We'll call the baby Fabian, I guess," O'Leary said, nervously passing the time sipping Goslings, Bermuda rum.

The last powerful hurricane to hit the British mid-Atlantic islands was Hurricane Emily in 1987, a Category 1 storm that tore off roofs, left homes without power for weeks and caused more than $50 million in damage.

By Friday afternoon, Fabian's eye had passed within 34 miles west of Bermuda's largest island, which is 21 miles long and 1 1/2 miles wide.

Weather conditions were already improving. Storm surges were expected to diminish later Friday, the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.

"We've come up with a Fabian cocktail for our guests," said Paul S. Tormey, manager of The Fairmont Hamilton Princess hotel, which had nearly 300 guests. "The drinks will have umbrellas turned inside out."

Crews from the United States and the Caribbean were being called to the British territory to repair powerlines.

Leah Cerconi, 25, a teacher who just moved to Bermuda from Hartford, Conn., said she and her boyfriend went out on their mo-peds Friday to try to see the large waves. But they turned back.

"It was so windy we turned around," said Cerconi, staying at the Fairmont and talking as water dripped from ceilings in the dining room and alarm bells rang through the hotel.

About 62,000 people live in the British territory some 800 miles southeast of New York.


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