High waves from a raging sea pounded the south shores of Bermuda late Monday, knocking yachts loose from their moorings and battering oceanfront hotels as Hurricane Felix brushed past.
It wasn’t clear if or when Felix would make landfall along the East Coast of the United States, where the storm produced strong surf and closed some beaches as far north as New York. But a hurricane watch could be posted as early as this morning along the mid-Atlantic coast, especially North Carolina, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
Riptides caused by Felix on Monday killed two people and left one missing in North Carolina, and one person drowned in rough surf in Virginia. Beaches from the Outer Banks to Long Island, N.Y., were closed to swimmers.
Bermudans battened down their oceanfront homes in driving rain and fled inland to wait out Felix, an especially large hurricane with top wind speeds approaching 85 m.p.h.
Before the storm’s onslaught, residents packed hardware stores and supermarkets, seeking supplies. By early evening Monday, most streets were deserted. All commercial airline flights had been canceled by early afternoon.
Although it was downgraded to a less severe Category 1 hurricane from Category 3, on a scale of 1 to 5, Felix’s size presented a major threat, said Bill Frederick, a hurricane specialist with the National Weather Service.
“It’s a large hurricane. It’s very large,” Frederick said.
He said hurricane-force winds extended out 115 miles from the storm’s center, with tropical-storm-force winds--from 39 m.p.h. to 73 m.p.h.--300 miles out. A typical hurricane packs winds of about 20 m.p.h. 300 miles from its eye.
Even before the eye of the storm hit Bermuda, damage was reported at Mermaid Beach, Pink Beach and Elbow Beach hotels along the vulnerable south shore.
Jon Feldman, general manager of the Mermaid Beach Club, said his hotel had suffered only minor damage by Monday afternoon.
“This isn’t Florida,” Feldman said. “These aren’t trailer homes and clapboard construction.”
The hurricane jeopardized Bermuda’s referendum, scheduled today, on independence from Britain. Voting was not formally postponed, but elections officers at all 20 polling stations were expected to opt to delay the election at least until Wednesday.
Prime Minister John Swan said the referendum couldn’t be formally postponed without the recall of Parliament, which is on summer vacation.
Government legislator Trevor Moniz, who opposes independence, said the storm might make Bermudans more cautious and therefore less likely to cut ties with Britain.
The last major hurricane to hit Bermuda directly was Hurricane Emily in September, 1987. That storm, with winds up to 125 m.p.h., injured 70 people and caused $35 million in damage.