HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) — Hurricane Nicole roared across Bermuda on Thursday, pummeling the resort island with winds up to 115 mph that snapped trees and peeled off roofs before the storm spun away into open water.
The Category 3 system also flooded homes, damaged boats that broke away from their moorings and knocked out power to more than 27,000 customers who live in the British territory, which has sturdy infrastructure and is accustomed to heavy weather.
By late Thursday, crews were clearing roads, and many islanders were posting pictures of calmer seas and clearer skies.
"Nicole is now racing away," said James Dodgson, deputy director at the Bermuda Weather Service. "There's been a bit of sunshine trying to poke through." Forecasters expected to cancel a tropical storm warning later in the evening.
Hours earlier, Bermuda's 65,000 people got a brief respite from the storm's fury when the eye of the hurricane passed overhead. Authorities urged everyone to stay inside.
After the eye moved away, the wind grew strong enough to fling open a hatch on the weather service's radar, rendering it useless until the hatch could be shut, forecasters said.
Nick West, who lives with his family near a wharf in the town of St. George, said a large portion of his roof was ripped off just before the eye passed. His garden is now underwater.
"Just as long as we are all safe, that is all I really care about," he said.
In Nicole's aftermath, government officials inspected bridges and other structures. The Royal Bermuda Regiment removed uprooted trees and other debris from roads.
Cleanup efforts were expected to continue until early Friday, and the island's airport planned to reopen by then. Schools were scheduled to stay closed until Monday.
The hurricane weakened to a Category 2 storm as it churned toward the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. By Thursday night, it was about 255 miles (410 kilometers) northeast of Bermuda with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph (155 kph). The system was moving northeast at 21 mph (33 kph).
After strengthening to a Category 4 storm late Wednesday, the hurricane lost steam overnight.
Although severe storms often affect Bermuda, "a hurricane this strong is rare," the National Hurricane Center said.
As Nicole howled outside, some 120 guests were ushered for safety into a ballroom at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club, one of the island's largest hotels. They were served a free lunch as they waited for the storm to blow through.
American Airlines, Air Canada and other carriers canceled flights to the island. Several cruise ships also called off trips.