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Bill roughs up seas around Bermuda

Hurricane Bill is seen over the Atlantic in a satellite image released Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Hurricane Bill is seen over the Atlantic in a satellite image released Friday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Associated Press

HAMILTON, Bermuda — Hurricane Bill slammed punishing waves into Bermuda's coastal seawalls as it spun Friday over the open Atlantic, spreading big swells across the Bahamas and the southeast coast of the U.S.

The Category 2 hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 105 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. Forecasters said the hurricane could regain intensity over the weekend as its center passes between Bermuda and the eastern U.S. seaboard.

Tourists gathered at Bermuda's pink sand beaches to watch the powerful surf. Many shrugged off the threat of the approaching storm, but it apparently cut short a beachfront vacation for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

On the eastern U.S. coast, offshore waves of 20 feet or more and rip currents at the beach are expected over one of the summer's last weekends. Forecasters warned boaters and swimmers from northeastern Florida to New England of incoming swells, as Bill passes far out to sea on a northward track toward Canada's Maritime provinces.

Some roads along Bermuda's northern coast were flooded and traffic was heavy in Hamilton, the capital. The airport, which is accessible only by a low causeway bridge, announced it was closing Friday for the duration of the storm. All ferry service was canceled until Sunday.

Bill was forecast to bring 1 to 3 inches of rain to Bermuda, with up to 5 inches in some areas. Hurricane force winds extended outward up to 85 miles from its center on Friday night.

Much of Bermuda, a wealthy offshore financial center, is solidly built and able to withstand rough weather. But storm tides are expected to raise water levels up to 3 feet along the shores and battering waves could cause significant erosion. Large swells from the storm also were affecting Puerto Rico, Hispaniola and the Bahamas.

Despite warning signs posted at Bermuda's beaches, tourists gathered to watch waves pummel the sand and wash up to the dunes at Horseshoe Bay.

"We've never experienced a hurricane before, so it's very interesting. The children are loving it," said Kevin James, 54, a pharmaceutical company executive from London, who watched with his wife and two young children.

An Italian tourist from Turin, Mario Ferrero, was thrilled by the powerful storm.

"It's the first time I've seen something like this. I'm excited," said the 35-year-old landscape gardener.

Other tourists flew out before the storm bore down. State Department spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters the Clintons left Bermuda on Thursday night.

They arrived on Wednesday for a three- or four-day getaway. Local newspapers said they stayed at a luxury beachfront hotel, though their representatives refused to disclose any details.

Photographers spotted the former president golfing Thursday at Port Royal Golf Course, where four former Guantanamo Bay prisoners have been hired as groundskeepers following their release from the U.S. prison.

The former president and the prisoners, Muslims from western China known as Uighurs, did not have any contact, according to a lawyer for some of the men.

North Carolina was expecting flooding and beach erosion on the Outer Banks this weekend. The National Weather Service said Bill could cause water levels to rise 3 to 4 feet above normal and the ocean could spill over roads.

Emergency managers in New England warned boaters, swimmers and surfers to take added precautions this weekend, when waves are expected to swell to 35 feet off the coast.

The Three Belles Marina in Niantic, Connecticut, was securing boats and dragging in docks in anticipation of high waters, said Gary Julian, a customer service manager.

Waves of up to 20 feet are possible south of Martha's Vineyard and Block Island and east of Cape Cod, and up to 35 feet (10.5 meters) on portions of the prime fishing area of Georges Bank, the weather service said.

President Obama and his family plan to travel to Martha's Vineyard on Sunday for vacation.

Bermuda posted a tropical storm warning that means winds of 40 mph or more were expected to arrive within a day, and the island remained under a hurricane watch that indicated even stronger winds were possible within 36 hours.

The center's five-day track showed Bill staying well out to sea off the U.S. coast and inching closer to land off Canada's Maritime provinces before veering back out into the North Atlantic.

On Friday evening, the storm was centered about 200 miles (325 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, or about 600 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and was moving north-northwest at 20 mph.

Bill is the first Atlantic hurricane this year after a quiet start to the season that runs from June through November. The Miami center lowered its Atlantic hurricane outlook on Aug. 6 after no named tropical storms developed in the first two months.

The revised prediction was for three to six hurricanes, with one or two becoming major storms with winds over 110 mph. Researchers at Colorado State University have also lowered their Atlantic season forecast to four hurricanes, two of them major.