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Hurricane Bill weakens en route to eastern Canada

HAMILTON (Reuters) - Hurricane Bill weakened in intensity as it raced northwards toward eastern Canada on Saturday, pummeling the U.S. East Coast with heavy swells and dangerous surf as it passed.

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The U.S. National Hurricane Center downgraded Bill to a Category 1 storm packing top winds of 85 miles per hour (140 km per hour). Category 1 storms are the mildest on the five-step Saffir-Simpson intensity scale but are still potentially dangerous.

The Miami-based NHC said Hurricane Bill’s core should pass offshore of the coast of New England in the United States late on Saturday and move over or near Nova Scotia in Canada on Sunday.

Bill, the first hurricane of the 2009 Atlantic season, was expected to weaken further on Sunday as it moves over cooler waters.

Canadian authorities have issued selective hurricane watches and tropical storm warnings for its Atlantic maritime provinces, specifically for parts of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland. On its current track, Bill could threaten some oil and natural gas platforms and refineries in east Canada.

But at least one major oil facility in Bill’s path, the massive 98,200 barrel per day Hibernia platform, built to withstand icebergs and operated by Exxon Mobil Corp, would continue to operate normally, an Exxon spokeswoman said.

Canada’s National Hurricane Center warned people in coastal areas to be alert on Sunday for heavy rain, storm surge and heavy surf that could cause flooding.

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At 5 p.m. (2100 GMT) on Saturday, the center of Bill was located about 300 miles south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts and about 585 miles south-southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

“The forecast track brings Bill to the waters just south of Nova Scotia in 24 hours and very near or over Newfoundland between 24 and 36 hours as a weakening cyclone,” the NHC said.


A tropical storm warning was also in effect on Saturday for parts of the United States’ Massachusetts coast, including the island of Martha’s Vineyard, where President Barack Obama and his family are due to start a summer vacation on Sunday.

U.S. media reported some beaches in Massachusetts, New York and elsewhere on the U.S. East Coast were closed to swimmers as the National Hurricane Center warned that swells generated by Bill could cause dangerous surf and rip-currents.

Earlier on Saturday, Bill dumped rain on Bermuda and pushed powerful rolling surf onto the shores of the 20 square mile (53 sq km) British territory, which is a center for the global insurance industry.

But no casualties were reported and damage appeared minor. Bermudian authorities ended the tropical storm warning for the island.

Bermudians, who are used to Atlantic storms, shrugged off the hurricane. “We’ve had worse, but it’s better to be safe than sorry,” said Robert Marquez, front desk manager at Bermuda’s upscale The Reefs Hotel.

Earlier in the week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, wrapped up a brief private vacation in Bermuda and left the island on Thursday before the storm.

Additional reporting by Scott Haggett in Calgary; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Anthony Boadle