Forecasters downgrade hurricane Bill to Category 1 storm

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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EDGARTOWN, Massachusetts - A weakening hurricane Bill spun northward Sunday, churning up rough seas, creating dangerous rip tides and closing beaches to swimmers up and down the eastern seaboard, including President Barack Obama's planned vacation spot, Martha's Vineyard.

The Category 1 hurricane was expected to pass the mainland well off New England, but was still packing high winds and waves that had safety officials urging extreme caution.

At Robert Moses State Park in New York, the beach was shut down as the high tide submerged the sand, though the beach opened later Saturday for sunbathing. Along some beaches in Delaware and New Jersey, no swimming was allowed.

"It's just too dangerous right now," Rehoboth Beach Patrol Capt. Kent Buckson said.

Around 2 a.m. Sunday (0600 GMT), Bill had maximum sustained winds near 85 mph (140 kph) and was about 160 miles (260 km) east-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, and about 365 miles (590 km) south-southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

A tropical storm warning remained in effect late Saturday night for Massachusetts, including the islands of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, meaning tropical storm-force winds of 40 mph (64 kph) or more could hit the coastline in the next 24 hours.

The worst of Bill was expected to pass about 150 to 200 miles (about 240 to 320 kilometres) east of Martha's Vineyard before Obama's arrival on Sunday. The Obamas delayed their planned Sunday morning departure from Andrews Air Force Base to Sunday mid-afternoon because of the weather, White House aides said.

On Saturday, nearly all south-facing beaches on the island were closed to swimmers and large signs blocked roadways to shorefronts. Meanwhile, lifeguards used caution tape to rope off access points, and police patrolled the beach to enforce the closings.

"The concern we have now is that the riptides are very strong," said lifeguard James Costantini. "There's a very strong undertow."

Longtime Vineyard vacationer Jack DeCoste, 69, was unimpressed with the storm as he lounged in a beach chair in Edgartown.

"I don't think it's going to impact things that much," DeCoste said. "I think it'll be in and out of here fairly quickly."

The high waves that worried safety officials had surfers buzzing. Scott Fisher, 38, was at Nantasket Beach in Hull, where the morning's moderate waves were expected to build throughout the day.

"People wait all summer for this," he said.

The storm was expected to reach Canadian waters early Sunday, and the Canadian Hurricane Center on Saturday issued a hurricane watch for areas of Nova Scotia, where winds speeds could hit 74 mph (120 kph) with gusts of 87 mph (140 kph).

Marine Atlantic suspended ferry service between Port aux Basques, Newfoundland and North Sydney, Nova Scotia, beginning Sunday morning, saying the risks were just too high.

In Nova Scotia, provincial parks have been shut down and people advised to stay clear of beaches.

"The waves, they're very pretty to look at but very dangerous," Barry Manuel of the Halifax Emergency Management Office said Saturday.

In Atlantic City, New Jersey, surfers gathered Saturday on beaches where 20-foot (6-meter) waves were expected. But only a few were willing to take their boards into the big swells.

Atlantic City Beach Patrol Chief Rod Aluise told The Press of Atlantic City that some surfers just stood on the beach "with their eyes popping out" at the size of the waves.

"This is only for experienced surfers," Aluise said.

The stormy conditions were expected to last through the weekend.

"It takes a while for the ocean to relax" after strong storms, said Gary Conte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "Until it does, riptides will make dangerous sport" for surfers and swimmers.

Hurricane Bill moved past Bermuda earlier Saturday, leaving behind sunny skies, debris and flooding, but no casualties.

The storm mostly spared the pink-sand shores, though it cut power to about 3,700 customers and flooded some roads along the northern coast. The airport was closed overnight and expected to reopen Saturday afternoon. All ferry service was cancelled until Sunday.

Bermudians and tourists awoke to some water on the roads, rain and gusting winds.

"It was something to behold. I've never been in a hurricane before," said ESPN sportscaster Kenny Mayne, who hoped to return to the U.S. on Sunday.

A government spokeswoman said the British territory's hospitals had no storm-related patients.

Organizations: U.S. National Hurricane Center, Canadian Hurricane Center, Marine Atlantic Halifax Emergency Management Office Beach Patrol National Weather Service

Geographic location: Martha's Vineyard, EDGARTOWN, Nova Scotia Atlantic City, New Jersey Nantucket, Massachusetts New England Robert Moses State Park New York Rehoboth Beach Miami Islands of Nantucket Atlantic City Nantasket Beach Hull Port aux Basques Newfoundland North Sydney Bermuda U.S.

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