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Canada braces for one of the strongest storms ever to hit as Fiona nears

<span>Photograph: Akil Simmons/AP</span>
Photograph: Akil Simmons/AP

Canada is bracing for what could be one of the strongest storms ever to touch down on the country, as Fiona makes its way up the Atlantic coast.

The storm transformed from a hurricane into a post-tropical cyclone late on Friday, but meteorologists said it could still bring hurricane-strength wind, heavy rain and big waves to the Atlantic Canada region.

Forecasters warned that the storm could affect a swath of the country, including Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, south-eastern New Brunswick, western and south-western Newfoundland, and some parts of Quebec bordering the Gulf of St Lawrence.

Related: Puerto Rico power outage continues as Hurricane Fiona heads north

Fiona began Friday as a category 4 storm but weakened to category 2 and was forecast to make landfall in Nova Scotia early on Saturday.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre said: “Most regions will experience hurricane-force winds. These severe winds will begin impacting the region late Friday and will continue on Saturday. Similar cyclones of this nature have produced structural damage to buildings.”

Heavy rains and flooding are expected, especially to the north and west of the storm, which left more than a million people without power in Puerto Rico as it churned across the Caribbean.

“It certainly has the potential to be one of the most severe systems to have hit eastern Canada,” Ian Hubbard, a meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Centre, said.

“It’s going to a bad one,” the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said. “We of course hope there won’t be much needed, but we feel there probably will be. And we will be there for that.

“In the meantime, we encourage everyone to stay safe and to listen to the instructions of local authorities and hang in there for the next 24 hours.”

Two people on a motorbike ride past a damaged structure in St George, Bermuda, in Fiona’s aftermath
A damaged structure in St George, Bermuda, in Fiona’s aftermath. Photograph: Akil Simmons/AP

On Friday, Fiona touched down on Bermuda, hitting the island with heavy rain and high winds. Authorities in the area opened shelters and closed schools, AP reported.

“We are not out of the woods yet,” said Michael Weeks, the country’s security minister, adding that there were no major reports of damage, but that citizens should remain indoors and stay off the roads.

The US National Hurricane Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 105mph (165km/h) late on Friday. The storm could reach Canada as a “large and powerful post-tropical cyclone with hurricane-force winds”.

Related: Bermuda and Canada brace for Fiona as Puerto Rico counts cost

In Canada, a hurricane watch has been issued over much of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. Emergency notifications about the storm have been sent in Nova Scotia, with authorities warning people to stay inside, charge devices and avoid coastlines as wind damage and power outages are possible.

Local residents have also been preparing for the impending storm, reported CBC, sharing a number of storm prepping techniques on social media, such as keeping extra batteries on hand and using ice to keep food cold in case of a power outage.

Meteorologists are especially concerned about the potential damage from storm surges in coastal areas.

“We’re looking at the potential for maybe near or even the highest water levels they’ve ever seen, so that could be quite, quite dangerous, quite damaging,” Environment Canada meteorologist Rob Carroll told CBC.

A person walks by overturned tables on a patio
Restaurant tables are turned upside down in downtown Halifax on Friday. Photograph: Darren Calabrese/AP

Officials in Prince Edward Island sent an emergency alert warning of severe flooding along the northern shore of the province. “Immediate efforts should be taken to protect belongings,” the alert said. “Avoid shorelines, waves are extremely dangerous. Residents in those regions should be prepared to move out if needed.”

At Samsons Enterprises boatyard in the small Acadian community of Petit-de-Grat on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, Jordan David was helping his friend Kyle Boudreau tie down Boudreau’s lobster boat “Bad Influence” in hopes it wouldn’t be lifted and broken by winds.

“All we can do is hope for the best and prepare as best we can,” said David, wearing his outdoor waterproof gear. “There’s something coming, and just how bad is yet to be determined.”

Boudreau said he was worried. “This is our livelihood. Our boats get smashed, our traps get smashed – it’s stuff you don’t have to start your season next year,” he said.

Hurricanes in Canada are rare, with storms usually losing their power as they reach colder waters. But the storm heading towards Canada still has hurricane-level winds.

Officials have continued preparing, readying shelters for people to use before the storm touches down.

“We have been through these types of events before, but my fear is, not to this extent,” said Amanda McDougall, mayor of Cape Breton regional municipality.

“The impacts are going to be large, real and immediate.”

With Associated Press