Big waves pound Bermuda as Hurricane Igor nears

HAMILTON, BERMUDA(AP) - Big waves pounded Bermuda's beaches Sunday as islanders rushed to board up windows, fill sandbags and stock up on water, food and other supplies before Hurricane Igor's expected arrival.

In Mexico, people cleaned up from flooding and wind damage caused by Hurricane Karl, which killed at least seven people after it came ashore Friday.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Hurricane Igor was expected to pass over or very close to Bermuda late Sunday or early Monday. Igor was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane overnight and had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (135 kph) Sunday morning.

Waves of 12 to 15 feet (4 to 5 meters) began roaring onto Bermuda's beaches Saturday afternoon, smashing into breakwaters.

"This storm will be a long and punishing one," Public Safety Minister David Burch said. "The potential for injury and physical damage is great."

High surf kicked up by the storm already swept two people out to sea in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, far to the south.

"It's absolutely spectacular, but it's probably going to be absolutely horrifying come the next couple of days," Peter Mills, 44, said while watching with his wife and two children as waves foamed at John Smith's Bay Park.

Igor was about 190 miles (305 kilometers) south of Bermuda and heading north at 13 mph (20 kph), according to the U.S. hurricane center. Hurricane-force winds extended about 90 miles (150 kilometers) from the storm's center.

Forecasters said Igor could drop 6 to 9 inches (15 to 23 centimeters) of rain over Bermuda and cause significant coastal flooding.

Bermudians rushed 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 Masters Ltd., a home and garden store in the capital of Hamilton. "Anything people can use to secure their homes."

Hotel cancellations were reported across Bermuda, popular with tourists for its pink sand beaches and with businesspeople as an offshore financial haven.

Sophie Dier, a spokeswoman for Elbow Beach hotel, said it was almost fully booked for the weekend until a business group and a wedding party canceled. That meant about 90 percent of the rooms would be empty, she said.

L.F. Wade International Airport shut down Saturday afternoon and likely would not reopen until Monday, the government said.

The last plane to leave was a British Airways flight to London, which departed three hours earlier than usual. Aboard was Jane Royden, 47, and her husband, both from Birmingham, England.

"We are quite relieved to be leaving and concerned for the safety of the island and everyone here," said Royden, who cut her two-week vacation short by a week.

Officials said schools would be closed Monday and Tuesday, and a local newspaper canceled its Monday edition.

Hurricane Fabian killed four people when it hit Bermuda as a Category 3 hurricane in 2003.

In Mexico, officials reported seven fatalities from Hurricane Karl, which made landfall Friday and continued to soak south-central parts of the country over the weekend even as it dissipated.

They included a 61-year-old woman and a 2-year-old girl who died when a landslide buried a house in the town of Nexticapan in Puebla state. In Veracruz state, a woman and two young children were swept away by a rushing river in Cotaxtla.

Government workers and residents were clearing mud, water and tree branches from homes and businesses in Cotaxtla, a town of 5,000 residents, where a river overflowed its banks and flooded buildings up to their rooftops.

"There are no words for this," Mayor Cirilo Pena said. "It's something we didn't expect. It's the first time this river has risen so far."

Far out in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Julia was weakening and not expected to threaten land.

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