January 15, 2016 / 11:36 AM / 4 years ago

Hurricane Alex weakens to storm after little damage in Azores

Waves crash against the coast during the passage of hurricane Alex in Ponta Delgada, Azores, Portugal, January 15, 2016. REUTERS/Rui Soares

LISBON (Reuters) - Hurricane Alex weakened to a tropical storm on Friday after making landfall in Portugal’s Azores archipelago, where it caused little damage, mainly toppling trees, briefly cutting power in some villages and flooding homes.

The eye of the storm missed the archipelago’s island of Terceira by 20 km (12 miles), meteorologists said.

There were no reports of casualties from the hurricane, a rare event in the Atlantic at this time of the year. Residents of the seven Portuguese islands had reinforced doors and windows with plywood and sandbags on Friday, and schools and administrative buildings were closed.

In television footage, various relieved residents said the event was little different from any other day of bad winter weather in the archipelago and not nearly as bad as a storm that hit the Azores in December, when one man was killed.

"Alex weakens to a tropical storm ... now moving away from the Azores," the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on its website (www.nhc.noaa.gov/#ALEX) at 1500 GMT. Alex was a "Category 1" hurricane, the weakest rating on the five-tier Saffir-Simpson scale.

Nuno Moreira, meteorologist at the Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute said the section of the hurricane with the strongest winds was over the sea when it passed by Terceira, “so gusts are somewhat weaker than initially feared.”

Hurricanes usually form above warmer water in the June-November period. Alex is the first to have emerged in the Atlantic in January since 1938, according to U.S. meteorologists.

Forecasters had expected gusts to reach 160 km (100 miles) an hour and waves to be as high as 18 meters (60 ft), but in the event winds on the islands blew at 100-130 km an hour and waves rarely exceeded 10 meters.

The Azores, 1,500 km west of mainland Portugal, were last hit by hurricanes in 2012.

Reporting by Andrei Khalip; editing by Andrew Roche

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