Hurricane Gonzalo strengthens, threatens Bermuda

Hurricane Gonzalo gathered strength moving over open water away from the eastern end of the Caribbean, and forecasters said it could become a powerful category 4 storm Wednesday as it headed toward Bermuda.

'It was a big storm, much bigger than people predicted'

Utility poles in the French Caribbean island of Saint Martin were damaged in Hurricane Gonzalo. (AFP/Getty Images)

Hurricane Gonzalo gathered strength moving over open water away from the eastern end of the Caribbean, and forecasters said it could become a powerful category 4 storm Wednesday as it headed toward Bermuda.

Authorities on some of the smaller islands buffeted by Gonzalo said at least one person was dead and two were missing. Dozens of boats were damaged and power was knocked out in the Dutch Caribbean territory of St. Maarten.

The storm had top sustained winds of nearly 205 kilometres per hour and was centred about 1,100 kilometres south of Bermuda late Tuesday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It was moving northwest at 20 km/h.

The centre said Gonzalo could become a Category 4 hurricane during the day while it takes a path that would take it near Bermuda on Friday. Category 4 storms have sustained winds of at least 209 km/h with the potential to cause catastrophic damage.

"Folks in Bermuda are going to need to start paying attention to this thing," Dennis Feltgen, a National Hurricane Center meteorologist, said by phone.

Bermuda's government posted a hurricane watch for the British territory, urging islanders to keep an eye on the storm's progress.
This image provided by NOAA late Tuesday Oct. 14, 2014 shows Hurricane Gonzalo, lower right, which forecasters said could become a powerful category 4 storm Wednesday as it heads toward Bermuda. (The Associated Press)

Officials said flights departing Bermuda on Thursday, Friday and Saturday were fully booked.

Gonzalo was blamed for the death of an unidentified elderly man who was aboard a boat in St. Maarten's Simpson Bay Lagoon, which looked like a ship graveyard Tuesday with several masts protruding from the water. Acting Coast Guard Director Wendell Thode said 22 of the 37 boats destroyed by the storm were in the lagoon.

"Most of the boats that are destroyed are completely under water," he said.

Authorities were searching for a man last seen on a dinghy near the French Caribbean territory of St. Martin and another man last seen standing close to a harbour in St. Barts, said Matthieu Doligez, general secretary of the prefecture in St. Martin.

Amy Arrindell, vice president of the St. Maarten Zoological and Botanical Foundation, said the St. Maarten Zoo was heavily damaged but no animals escaped or died. She said trees were uprooted, the petting zoo was destroyed and the animals' enclosures were flooded.

"There is major damage to the structure," she said. "It is total devastation."