- Associated Press - Sunday, September 19, 2010

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.

Under dark, cloudy skies, onlookers gathered along beaches to watch the 15-foot surf smash into breakwaters. Some were optimistic that a weakened Igor, which was downgraded to a Category 1 hurricane overnight, would spare the wealthy British enclave 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 Sunday or early Monday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph — 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. Public Safety Minister David Burch warned that “the storm will be a long and punishing one.”

Premier Ewart Brown said islanders “have been forced to recognize 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 already has swept two people out to sea in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, far to the south.

On Sunday morning, Igor was about 190 miles south of Bermuda and heading north at 13 mph, according to the U.S. hurricane center. Hurricane-force winds extended about 90 miles from the storm’s center.

Forecasters said the storm could drop 6 to 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 rushed to pull boats out of the water and buy supplies on Saturday.

“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.

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