(Reuters) - Hurricane Nicole plowed directly into Bermuda on Thursday before churning into the open sea and weakening, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said, as local media reported significant damage to the tiny Atlantic island chain.
The Royal Gazette newspaper said the storm, rated as a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, sheared rooftops from buildings, uprooted trees, flooded homes and downed power lines as it hit Bermuda with sustained winds of up to 120 miles per hour (195 kph).
But there were no immediate reports of any casualties from Bermuda, a low-lying archipelago occupying just 21 square miles (54 sq km) and home to more than 65,000 people.
After passing over Bermuda, the storm, packing maximum sustained winds of 110 miles per hour (175 kph), was downgraded to a Category 2 hurricane, still capable of causing extensive damage.
The Bermuda Electric Light Company (BELCO) said that nearly 26,000 customers were without power, roughly 85 percent of its customers, and that many power lines and utility poles had been knocked down.
By late afternoon, the storm was 130 miles (210 km) northeast of Bermuda but a still a threat to the British overseas territory that is a major insurance and reinsurance center.
"A dangerous storm surge will raise water levels by as
much as 6 to 8 feet (1.8 to 2.4 meters) to above normal tide levels in Bermuda," warned the Miami-based hurricane center in its latest advisory.
"The surge will be accompanied by large and destructive waves. The storm surge should subside this evening," it added.
Bermuda is often in the paths of Atlantic storms and has extensive experience in handling them.
Nicole shot through Bermuda just a week after Hurricane Matthew tore a path of destruction through impoverished Haiti en route to the United States, where it triggered severe flooding. Matthew, which briefly rose to the maximum Category 5 intensity, killed more than 1,000 people in Haiti, and left more than 30 dead in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas.
(Reporting by Sandra Maler in Washington; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney and Sandra Maler)