Big waves pounded Bermuda's beaches today as islanders rushed to board up windows, fill sandbags and stock up on water, food and other supplies before Hurricane Igor's expected arrival.
Under dark, cloudy skies, onlookers gathered along beaches to watch the 15ft surf smash into breakwaters, but some voiced hope that a weakened Igor, which was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane overnight, would spare the island serious damage.
"We prayed that the storm would be downgraded, and it looks like our prayers have been answered," said Fred Swan, a 52-year-old teacher.
Igor was expected to pass over or very close to Bermuda late tonight or early tomorrow, according to the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami.
Igor has maximum sustained winds of 85mph - significantly weakened from previous days when it was an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, but still dangerous.
Officials urged islanders to take shelter at home, and public safety minister David Burch warned "the storm will be a long and punishing one".
Premier Ewart Brown said islanders "have been forced to recognise that the ocean is not so vast and Bermuda not so unique as to be separated from the awesome power of nature".
High surf kicked up by the storm has already swept two people out to sea in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, far to the south.
By late morning local time today, Igor was about 135 miles south-southwest of Bermuda and heading north at 16mph, according to the US hurricane centre.
Forecasters said the storm could drop 6-9 inches of rain over Bermuda and cause significant coastal flooding.
Steve Gibbons and five relatives ventured out on foot to Somerset Bridge, where high winds whipped the sea over the bridge and made it difficult to stand up straight.
"Later on, we'll be inside hunkered down," Mr Gibbons said while bracing himself against the gusting wind.
Bermudians have been rushing to pull boats out of the water and buy supplies.
"We've sold out of generators, tarpaulins, buckets, rope, screws, bottled water, coolers, even trash cans and plastic sheeting," said Mark Stearns of home and garden shop Masters in the capital Hamilton.
Hotel cancellations were reported across Bermuda, popular with tourists for its pink sand beaches and with businesspeople as an offshore financial haven.
A causeway linking the main island with St George's parish was closed, along with the LF Wade International Airport.
The last plane to leave was a British Airways flight to London, which departed three hours earlier than usual yesterday. Aboard was Jane Royden, 47, and her husband, both from Birmingham.
"We are quite relieved to be leaving and concerned for the safety of the island and everyone here," said Ms Royden, who cut her two-week holiday short by a week to escape the storm.
Officials said schools would be closed tomorrow and on Tuesday, and a local newspaper has cancelled its Monday edition.