The public were warned yesterday to prepare for the impact of what is expected to become Hurricane Paulette — and also take precautions to protect against Covid-19.
Renée Ming, the national security minister, said Paulette, still a tropical storm, was expected to hit the island on Monday as a hurricane with conditions predicted to get worse over the weekend.
The latest update from the Bermuda Weather Service said the storm’s closest point of approach in the next three days was forecast to be inside 29 miles of the island — considered a direct hit — at 8am on Monday.
The storm was 510 miles southeast of Bermuda and moving northwest at 15mph at 3pm today.
Extended forecasts suggested the storm could reach Category 2 strength with sustained winds of about 98mph by the time it reaches the island.
Ms Ming added: “Please exercise physical-distancing when you are shopping for your supplies or if you intend to ride out the storm with others.
“Please take steps to protect your families and above all, please check on your neighbours, our seniors, and our vulnerable persons.”
She told the public: “Bermuda, we have been through serious storms before, and we have weathered them by coming together as a community. So, let’s continue to look out for one another as we weather Paulette.”
The US-based National Hurricane Centre said: “Hurricane conditions are expected to reach Bermuda by Sunday night or early Monday.
“Winds are expected to first reach tropical storm strength by late Sunday evening, making outside preparations difficult or dangerous — preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.
“A dangerous storm surge is expected to produce significant coastal flooding on Bermuda in areas of onshore winds. Near the coast, the surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.”
Ms Ming said the Emergency Measures Organisation would meet this afternoon and that details of any government closures or cancellation of services would be announced afterwards.
Ms Ming added: “The public will be properly advised of any major decisions that affect them.
“Additionally, the Bermuda Police Service, the Royal Bermuda Regiment, the Parks Department and the Ministry of Public Works are mobilising their resources in the east, west and central areas of the island to ensure safety and security. She added that “we will also be able to provide more information regarding the government shelter at CedarBridge” after today’s meeting.
Ms Ming said: “As an added note, the Ministry of Health will also provide an update regarding its Covid-19 testing should it be affected by the impending storm.”
The minister reminded the public to include PPE and hand sanitiser in their hurricane kits alongside the normal non-perishable food supplies, water and medicine, if required.
Steve Cosham, the National Disaster Co-ordinator, said the Hurricane Operation Centre would be based in Hamilton Fire Station this year to ensure staff in the nerve centre could maintain physical distancing.
The City of Hamilton asked businesses to secure wheelie bins indoors before the storm landed.
Patrick Cooper, the city engineer, said: “At this time, the city’s last refuse collection before Paulette’s arrival is scheduled for Sunday evening.
“Due to unpredictability, the last refuse collection could change. Once emptied, all bins must be taken off the city sidewalks and secured inside for safety reasons.
“Refuse collection will only resume once the storm has passed and it is deemed safe to do so by the EMO authorities — nothing must be left on any sidewalk or in any street that could possibly become a projectile during gale or hurricane-force winds.”
He added city staff would carry out work to prepare the city for the storm over the weekend.
Workers will trim trees, remove street decorations and clear storm drains.
A spokesman for power firm Belco said it had started preparations for the storm.
He added: “Belco has engaged the company’s crisis management team who will meet regularly and closely monitor the approach of Tropical Storm Paulette.
“In the event of power outages, the team will continue to meet and co-ordinate restoration efforts until all power is restored.
“Assets are being put in place before the arrival of the storm so that once it has passed any restoration efforts can proceed quickly and efficiently.”
The spokesman said power restoration efforts could be delayed by safety measures imposed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He added that the company would not request outside help from the Caribbean Electric Utility Services Corporation or Algonquin Power and Utilities because of those measures.
Dennis Pimentel, the Belco president, said: “First and foremost, we urge everyone to be safe and not take any unnecessary risks during the storm should it impact Bermuda.
“Having worked through several major hurricanes, I am confident our crews are ready to assist once the storm has passed.
“Please ensure they have access to areas they need to work to repair damaged power lines so that power can be restored to all our customers as quickly as possible.”
The company also warned the public to take precautions during and in the wake of the hurricane when downed power lines could be a threat.
The West End Development Corporation, which runs Dockyard, has also started its hurricane preparation, including the evacuation of the marina.
A Wedco spokesman said: “As part of our standard preparations, boats are stored in the South Basin, the North Rock car park and in between the buildings on Smithery Lane.
“These areas will be closed to the public once the boats are in place. Clocktower Parade, in front of the Clocktower Mall, will be temporarily reopened to facilitate the traffic flow.
“Detour signage will be in place and online updates will be posted. Please be cognisant of this and drive through the area slowly and carefully to ensure your safety and the safety of the boats being stored throughout Dockyard.”