Hurricane Gonzalo has gathered strength as it moves away from the eastern end of the Caribbean, and forecasters say it could become a powerful category 4 storm as it heads towards Bermuda.
Authorities on some of the smaller islands buffeted by Gonzalo said at least one person had been killed 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 125mph and was centred more than 600 miles south of Bermuda late yesterday, the US National Hurricane Centre said. It was moving north west at 13mph.
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 130mph 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 Centre meteorologist, said.
The government posted a hurricane watch urging islanders to keep an eye on the storm’s progress.
Officials said departing flights for tomorrow, Friday and Saturday were fully booked.
Gonzalo was blamed for the death of an elderly man who was aboard a boat in St Maarten’s Simpson Bay Lagoon, which looked like a ship graveyard yesterday with several masts protruding from the water.
Coastguard spokesman 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 St Maarten Zoological and Botanical Foundation, said 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.”