Fortified Bermuda braces for powerful Hurricane Fiona

The beach chairs and umbrellas were put away, storefronts were covered and a lighthouse illuminated racing clouds overhead as Bermuda braced Thursday for Hurricane Fiona, a powerful Category 4 storm that has left a trail of destruction in the Caribbean.

Wind and waves were picking up as darkness fell over the British territory, and Bermudians rushed to the safety of their sturdy homes ahead of the storm, whose center will pass more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) to the west-northwest of the island early Friday, according to the Bermuda Weather Service. 

With a storm of that strength and size, residents were taking no chances. 

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the Fiona was packing maximum sustained winds of near 130 miles per hour, with higher gusts.

The island of some 64,000 people is no stranger to hurricanes — but it is also tiny, just 21 square miles (54 square kilometers), and one of the most remote places in the world, 640 miles from its closest neighbor, the United States.

“You have to live with it because you live here, you can’t run anywhere because it’s just a little island,” said JoeAnn Scott, a shopworker in Hamilton.

At Bermuda’s famed Horseshoe Bay Beach, where onlookers came to assess the pounding waves and stretch their legs ahead of a long night inside, resident Gina Maughan said the island would be ready. 

“These guys are a little crazy,” she added.

Because of the island’s isolation, preparations are taken seriously.

Public schools will be closed on Friday, and the government announced that an emergency shelter will be opened. Buses and ferries had stopped running by late Thursday.

“Please Bermuda, no driving around, no venturing out to take pictures, no reckless behavior,” he told a press conference.

There is no fresh water source on the island, so all buildings have white, lime-washed roofs that are used to catch rainwater that is directed into tanks and pumped into homes as the main water supply. 

“The construction is really built to last, and we don’t see the devastation ever that the Caribbean has experienced over the years,” shop owner Hartley’s wife, Elaine Murray, said.

President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico, a US territory that is still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria five years ago.

Farther north in Bermuda, islanders were calm. 

But if things do go wrong, Bermudians will “all come out together and we help each other,” she said.