- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 23, 2009

EDGARTOWN, Mass. | A weakening Hurricane Bill spun northward Saturday, churning up rough seas, creating dangerous riptides and closing beaches to swimmers up and down the eastern seaboard, including President Obama’s planned vacation spot, Martha’s Vineyard.

The Category 2 hurricane was expected to pass the mainland well off New England, but was still packing high winds and waves that had safety officials urging extreme caution.

At Robert Moses State Park in New York, the beach was shut down as the high tide submerged the sand, though the beach opened later Saturday for sunbathing. Along some beaches in Delaware and New Jersey, no swimming was allowed.

“It’s just too dangerous right now,” Rehoboth Beach Patrol Capt. Kent Buckson said.

At midafternoon Saturday, the storm was about 370 miles south of Nantucket and losing strength as it moved over cooler waters, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. But the storm was still carrying maximum winds of 100 mph.

A tropical storm warning was issued Saturday for Massachusetts, including the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, meaning tropical-storm-force winds of 40 mph or more could hit the coastline in the next 24 hours.

The worst of Bill was expected to pass about 150 to 200 miles east of Martha’s Vineyard before Mr. Obama’s arrival Sunday, and there was no word from the White House that the Obamas were changing vacation plans.

On Saturday, nearly all south-facing beaches on the island were closed to swimmers, and large signs blocked roadways to shorefronts. Meanwhile, lifeguards used caution tape to rope off access points, and police patrolled the beach to enforce the closings.

“The concern we have now is that the riptides are very strong,” said lifeguard James Costantini. “There’s a very strong undertow.”

Longtime Vineyard vacationer Jack DeCoste, 69, of Plymouth, Mass., was unimpressed with the storm as he lounged in a beach chair in Edgartown.

“I don’t think it’s going to impact things that much,” Mr. DeCoste said. “I think it’ll be in and out of here fairly quickly.”

The high waves that worried safety officials had surfers buzzing. Scott Fisher, 38, was at Nantasket Beach in Hull, Mass., where the morning’s moderate waves were expected to build throughout the day. “People wait all summer for this,” he said.

The storm was expected to reach Canadian waters early Sunday, and the Canadian Hurricane Center on Saturday issued a hurricane watch for areas of Nova Scotia, where wind speeds could hit 74 mph with gusts of 87 mph.

Marine Atlantic suspended ferry service between Port aux Basques in Newfoundland and North Sydney in Nova Scotia, beginning Sunday morning, saying the risks were just too high.

In Atlantic City, N.J., surfers gathered Saturday on beaches where 20-foot waves were expected. But only a few were willing to take their boards into the big swells.

Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise told the Press of Atlantic City that some surfers just stood on the beach “with their eyes popping out” at the size of the waves.

“This is only for experienced surfers,” Mr. Aluise said.

The stormy conditions were expected to last through the weekend.

“It takes awhile for the ocean to relax” after strong storms, said Gary Conte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Until it does, riptides will make dangerous sport” for surfers and swimmers.

Hurricane Bill moved past Bermuda earlier Saturday, leaving behind sunny skies, debris and flooding, but no casualties.

The storm mostly spared the pink-sand shores, though it cut power to about 3,700 customers and flooded some roads along the northern coast. The airport was closed overnight and expected to reopen Saturday afternoon. All ferry service was canceled until Sunday.

Bermudans and tourists awoke to some water on the roads, rain and gusting winds.

“It was something to behold. I’ve never been in a hurricane before,” said ESPN sportscaster Kenny Mayne, who hoped to return to the U.S. on Sunday.

A government spokeswoman said the British territory’s hospitals had no storm-related patients.

*Bruce Shipkowski, Karen Testa, Jay Lindsay, Jennifer Peltz, Amanda Dale, Rob Gillies and Gillian Gaynair contributed to this report.

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