Forecasters said Igor, an unusually large storm with an eye bigger than the Atlantic territory of 65,000, will hit sometime between Sunday afternoon and early Monday, battering Bermuda with heavy winds and rains for two days.
Large waves, caused by the hurricane’s swell, were already pounding the island’s south shore by Saturday afternoon.
The LF Wade International Airport canceled all flights to and from the island and planned to close until Tuesday morning.
A British Royal Navy ship and helicopter have been stationed offshore to assist in case of widespread damage from the hurricane, which saw its maximum sustained winds slightly decrease to 100 miles (160 kilometers) per hour.
Residents have been preparing for the worst all week, boarding up windows and stocking up on supplies in anticipation of long bouts without power.
The sheer size of the storm — which has a wind field of nearly 600 miles (965 kilometers) — means Bermuda is in for an extended battering.
Tropical storm force winds (40 miles, or 64 kilometers, per hour and higher) are expected for almost two days and hurricane force winds (above 74 miles, of 119 kilometers, per hour) are expected for about 10 hours.
At 2100 GMT, Igor was about 360 miles (580 kilometers) south of Bermuda, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. It was expected to produce a “dangerous” storm surge and flooding in coastal areas, forecasters said.
Igor was so large that hurricane force winds extended outward up to 90 miles (150 kilometers). Tropical storm force winds also were radiating up to 345 miles (555 kilometers) from its center, the NHC said.
Bermuda’s Minister of Labor, Home Affairs and Housing David Burch urged residents to “protect life and property” ahead of a storm he said could rival Hurricane Fabian, which claimed four lives and caused millions of dollars worth of damage when it struck Bermuda in 2003.
“This storm will be a long and punishing one and the potential for injury and physical damage is great,” he added in a statement.
A local high school has been converted into an emergency shelter for the entire island, which spans only 22 square miles (57 square kilometers).
There are no evacuation plans. Some tourists chose to leave earlier this week, while others are riding it out in their hotels.
While Bermuda’s stone buildings are well designed to withstand hurricanes, no one here is taking any unnecessary risks.
Clarabell White said she had her son board up the windows of her home in Pembroke on the island’s north shore.
“Living so close to the sea, I’m not taking any chances,” she said.
Local forecasters said the eye of Igor, a category two storm on the five-point Saffir-Simpson scale, would pass within 12 nautical miles (22 kilometers) of Bermuda.
Huge swells from Igor were also due to strike the US east coast through the weekend, while “life-threatening” surf and rip currents would gradually subside in the Leeward Islands, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, portions of the Bahamas and the island of Hispaniola shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Meanwhile, rescue teams scoured eastern Mexico in search for victims after Hurricane Karl hit the area as a powerful category three storm on Friday. It quickly dissipated over local mountain ranges but the region was facing more winds and heavy downpours that could cause swollen rivers to overflow.
The storm came as Mexico reeled under one of its wettest seasons on record, forcing oil rigs to be evacuated and the country’s nuclear plant to shut down. Major flooding earlier this month killed 25 people and affected nearly a million more.
Downed power lines, fallen branches and trees uprooted by strong winds littered the streets. Heavy traffic was already crowding the roads leading to the port of Veracruz while electricity was gradually restored.
The death toll rose to three Saturday, with two persons still missing and 250,000 displaced, officials said. Authorities were looking for a 53-year-old woman and two children believed to be swept away by a wave in the coastal town of Cotaxtla.
The storm hit during an especially active hurricane season in the region.