HAMILTON – Hurricane Bill doused Bermuda with rain and battered its shores with powerful surf on Saturday as it moved on a path off the U.S. East Coast, where a tropical storm warning was issued for coastal Massachusetts.
Residents of Bermuda, a 20 square mile (53 sq km) island British territory and a center for the global insurance industry, mostly stayed off the streets overnight as the Category 2 hurricane charged by more than 200 miles to the west.
But no casualties were immediately reported and damage appeared to have been minimal. The island's airport was due to reopen later on Saturday.
On its current track, Bill, packing maximum sustained winds near 105 mph, was forecast to pass offshore of the coast of New England in the United States late on Saturday and approach Nova Scotia in Canada on Sunday.
A tropical storm warning was in effect on Saturday for parts of the Massachusetts coast, including the island of Martha's Vineyard, where President Barack Obama and his family are due to start a weeklong summer vacation on Sunday.
This means that tropical storm conditions were expected somewhere in the warning area within 24 hours.
At 8 a.m. EDT (1200 GMT) on Saturday, Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season, was located about 235 miles west-northwest of Bermuda and about 510 miles south of Nantucket, Massachusetts, the U.S. National Hurricane center said.
The NHC said some fluctuations in Bill's intensity were possible on Saturday followed by a weakening later as the center moved north of the warm Gulf Stream.
Starting Sunday, Bill could threaten some oil and natural gas platforms and refineries in eastern Canada.
Officials from the Canadian Hurricane Center have said they expected the storm to pass along Nova Scotia's eastern shore on Sunday and hit southeastern areas of Newfoundland and Labrador on Sunday night or early Monday morning.
The NHC said large swells generated by Bill would whip up dangerous surf and rip currents along the eastern coast of the United States, moving northward over the weekend.
BERMUDIANS SHRUG OFF BILL
As it passed west of Bermuda, Bill pushed rolling surf onto the island's beaches, where authorities had posted signs prohibiting swimming.
But Bermudians, who are used to Atlantic storms, were shrugging off the hurricane.
We've had worse, but it's better to be safe than sorry, said Robert Marquez, front desk manager at Bermuda's upscale The Reefs Hotel.
Now we are just busy helping our guests and rearranging any flights that were canceled this morning, he added.
Earlier in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, had wrapped up a brief private vacation in Bermuda and left the island on Thursday before the storm.
U.S. forecasters were also keeping watch on a tropical wave off the Atlantic coast of Africa, 750 miles west-southwest of the Cape Verde Islands.
There was less than a 30 percent chance it would grow into a tropical cyclone in the next two days, they said.
(Writing by Pascal Fletcher; editing by Doina Chiacu)