Azores escape major damage as hurricane moves away

TERCEIRA ISLAND, Portugal (Reuters) - Hurricane Lorenzo was moving rapidly away from the Azores after it struck the mid-Atlantic islands early on Wednesday, causing damage ranging from power outages to a partially destroyed pier.

“My island’s shoreline is destroyed,” said 38-year-old resident Carlos Garcia. “It will happen again because we are right in the middle of the Atlantic. There are not too many places to escape to.”

The Portuguese islands’ regional government said more than 50 people had to be relocated.

Since the Category 1 hurricane arrived, more than 170 incidents were reported, mostly on the island of Faial.

The nine islands of the Azores lie about 1,500 km (930 miles) west of the Portuguese mainland and are home to nearly 250,000 people.

“This might be the strongest (hurricane) in the last 20 years,” said Carlos Neves, head of the Azores’ civil protection authority. “Although it shifted slightly in recent days to the west, it has affected us in a very aggressive way.”

The islands of Flores and Corvo were also badly hit by strong waves and winds of up to 88 mph (142 kph) and 101 mph (163 kph), respectively.

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With its port pier partially destroyed and infrastructure damaged, Flores island could face problems in getting supplies from elsewhere, the regional government said.

Elsewhere, including on the Azores’ Terceira island, strong gales were felt until mid-afternoon on Wednesday but the sun came out later.

Shopkeeper Maria Esteves was one of the few in Angra do Heroismo, on Terceira island, to open her doors to customers hours after Lorenzo struck. Most other stores, cafes and restaurants remained shut.


“People who live in the islands are always prepared that something like this can happen,” Esteves, 53, who sells handcrafted Portuguese items, said as she put away materials she used to protect her business from the hurricane.

“(But) here in Angra do Heroismo things went well so it’s pretty much like a normal day,” she said.

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No one has been injured although there have been floods and fallen trees, officials said. Power cuts and mobile network problems were reported on Flores and Corvo.

Lorenzo briefly became a Category 5 hurricane at the weekend, the strongest on record this far north and east in the Atlantic, but it has been downgraded, striking the Azores as a Category 1 - an unusual strength for a storm in these latitudes.

“The climate is changing and it’s impressive,” said Terceira resident Antonio Berdendes. “If the governments don’t open their eyes we will suffer.”

Schools and non-emergency services were closed across the Azores on Wednesday, with ports on some islands also shut. Authorities have closed numerous streets and roads.

The Miami-based National Hurricane Center said Lorenzo will move away from the Azores on Wednesday and come closer to Ireland on Thursday evening. “Lorenzo is expected to be a strong extra-tropical cyclone when it approaches Ireland,” it added.

Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira, Rafael Marchante and Marco Trujillo in Azores; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Giles Elgood