Bermuda prepares for Hurricane Rafael's wind, rain

HAMILTON, Bermuda -- Hurricane Rafael is expected to unleash heavy winds and rain as it passes east of Bermuda late Tuesday en route to open sea, where it is expected to lose strength.

The storm is a Category 1 hurricane with winds near 90 mph (150 kph). It was located 225 miles (410 kilometers) south of Bermuda late Tuesday morning, moving north-northeast at 24 mph (39 kph).

Bermuda Weather Service director Kimberley Zuill said wind gusts at the island's highest peaks could reach up to 75 mph and warned of flooding across the British territory.

"We have already been under the effects of Rafael this morning as the first rain band swept across the area bringing rainfall to much of the island," she said. "Fortunately, Rafael's strongest winds remain on the eastern side of the system and furthest away from Bermuda."

Seas around the island's outer reefs are expected to surge to 18 feet (5 meters) late Tuesday, she said.

Among those bracing for the storm was 38-year-old Chris Shallcross, a senior software developer who moved to the island from Britain about two weeks ago.

"I haven't done much to prepare, except buy some waterproofs because it looks like it might be a bit wet and windy," Shallcross said. "I hope that's not the naivety of a newbie to the island."

Public schools and government offices remained open on Tuesday, while at least eight flights were cancelled and several others rescheduled. Most of the local ferry service was suspended as well.

National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief urged people to go straight home after work.

"Rafael is expected to bring storm force winds and rough seas," he said. "I urge the public to exercise caution and remain indoors."

The center of Rafael was expected to reach its closest point to Bermuda around 8 p.m. ADT (23:00 GMT) Tuesday, at more than 100 miles (161 kilometers) to the east-southeast.

Richard Naud, a software developer from Quebec City who moved to Bermuda in early September, said he hadn't prepared for the storm and didn't learn of its approach until Sunday.

"Since I heard no one talk about it, I figured it was not worth having a panic attack," he said.