The British territory of Bermuda hunkered down overnight as Hurricane Nicole rapidly strengthened into a major Category 4 storm and took aim at the tiny island in the northern Atlantic Ocean.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami called Nicole an "extremely dangerous" storm and urged islanders to rush preparations for its powerful rain and winds. It said Nicole should pass near or over Bermuda on Thursday. The storm was located about 180 miles (290 kilometers) south-southwest of Bermuda late Wednesday night. It had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) and was moving north-northeast at 102 mph (19 kph).
Rains were already hitting Bermuda and authorities on Wednesday ordered schools and government offices closed, and asked people to remain indoors.
"I believe we are generally ready for it," Premier Michael Dunkley said. "Now we just have to hope and pray for the best."
Hundreds of people had rushed to shops and gas stations for last-minute preparations as rain and wind began to batter Bermuda, which has sturdy infrastructure and is accustomed to storms.
Those at home made last-minute preparations for what lay ahead, with resident Danni Joell saying she was "cooking up a storm" with her son, Tyler, in the kitchen.
"So far we've made an apple pie, and there are some cookies in the oven," she said. "Hopefully we will have enough to gets us through."
Businesses were largely boarded up by Wednesday night, and dozens of vessels from one marina were already neatly packed away between historical buildings in Mangrove Bay, a popular spot for water activities in Bermuda's northwest tip. Hotels, meanwhile, reported an uptick in bookings as people sought shelters with power.
American Airlines and Air Canada are among several that have cancelled flights to the island, and several cruise ships have cancelled trips, as well.
The hurricane was kicking up heavy surf in islands south of Bermuda including Puerto Rico, where authorities said they were looking for the body of a surfer who disappeared on Tuesday. He was identified as 37-year-old Gabriel Pantoja.