HAMILTON, Bermuda — Bermuda was getting lashed Sunday by gusting winds and pelting rains from a weakening Hurricane Joaquin as its spinning center tracked just southwest of the wealthy financial haven and tourist destination after plowing through the Bahamas as a major storm.
Rushing to finish last-minute preparations as the storm bore down, residents of the mid-Atlantic British dependency secured patio furniture and stocked up on gas and batteries as the hurricane's outer bands whipped the mid-Atlantic British territory. All flights to L.F. Wade International Airport were cancelled and ferry service was closed due to rough seas. Emergency service agencies were placed on alert.
"I think it's going to be bad, and last year I lost a lot of stuff to the storms," said retiree Susan DeSilva, whose son-in-law helped her secure her windows and doors.
Others were far less worried in the tiny territory accustomed to rough weather. At least one local bar in the capital of Hamilton was packed with people riding out the hurricane with drinks and friends.
After roaring across parts of the Bahamas as a major Category 4 hurricane, Joaquin weakened as it headed north. By early Sunday afternoon, forecasters said sustained winds had dropped to 105 mph (165 kph), making it a Category 2 storm. Still, it was expected to bring hurricane conditions and life-threatening storm surge to Bermuda later in the day when the storm's eye passes closest to the island. U.S. forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said isolated tornadoes were also possible.
As the hurricane's eye moves toward Bermuda, swells kicked up by the storm will continue to affect the Bahamas and the eastern coast of the U.S. about 600 miles (965 kilometers) away.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that elevated water levels and big waves from Joaquin will affect the U.S. mid-Atlantic region, "causing significant beach and dune erosion with moderate coastal flooding likely."
Joaquin lashed the lightly populated southeastern Bahamas earlier in the week, damaging hundreds of homes and causing severe flooding on several small islands in the sprawling archipelago off Florida's east coast. The government said it was still working to calculate the extent of the damage to infrastructure and private property.
Aircraft and ships returned to the southeastern Bahamas early Sunday to resume searching for a U.S. cargo ship with 33 people on board. The craft lost power and communications when it was caught in Hurricane Joaquin and has not been heard from since Thursday.
U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force planes and helicopters were looking for the ship across a broad expanse of the Atlantic Ocean around Crooked Island, which it was passing when it was battered by fierce winds and waves by what was then a Category 4 hurricane.
An elderly man died on the Bahamas' Long Island during the hurricane but it has not yet been determined if the storm caused his death, said Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency. The Bahamas was in cleanup mode Sunday and has discontinued all storm watches and warnings for its islands and cays.
By early Sunday afternoon, Joaquin's center was located some 125 miles (200 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 60 miles (95 kilometers). It is tracking north-northeast at 15 mph (24 kph). It is expected to pass north of Bermuda late Sunday and more weakening of the storm was forecast.
Contributor Josh Ball reported from Hamilton, Bermuda; AP writer David McFadden reported from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.