By Ayo Johnson

HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) - Bermuda residents stocked up on food, water - and alcohol, for traditional hurricane parties - as Hurricane Leslie swirled slowly on Thursday toward the wealthy British overseas territory in the Atlantic Ocean.

Bermuda is not expected to take a direct hit from Leslie, a Category 1 hurricane, the lowest on the Saffir-Simpson wind scale, as the storm veers slightly east of the tiny island of 20 square miles (52 square km) with 65,000 residents.

But tropical storm-force winds are expected by Saturday afternoon to batter the island and global reinsurance center 640 miles off the east coast of the United States, as the season's sixth Atlantic hurricane follows its slow trajectory northward.

Bermuda's Emergency Measures Organisation said schools would be closed on Friday and preparations were in hand to relocate and shelter visitors and residents if necessary.

"Bermuda can be confident that once the storm has passed, a well-coordinated response to critical issues is planned," National Security Minister Wayne Perinchief said.

Most government offices will close early on Friday, with ferry services suspended as of Saturday, the government said.

Southeasterly swells have been generating hazardous surf and rip currents in Bermuda's waters since Wednesday afternoon and all of the island's beaches have been closed to the public.

Some of the island's hotels have advised guests to consider leaving early before the worst of the storm makes landfall.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Leslie was stationary about 420 miles south-southeast of Bermuda late on Thursday with maximum sustained winds of 75 miles per hour.

The Bermuda Weather Service expects Leslie to intensify into a Category 2 hurricane with wind speeds of 95 mph and to pass close by the island on Sunday morning.

Farther out in the ocean, Hurricane Michael, the first Category 3 storm of the Atlantic hurricane season, was downgraded to a Category 2 on Thursday, with maximum sustained winds of 110 mph. A gradual weakening is expected during the next 48 hours, the Miami-based hurricane center said.

Michael was moving north, about 945 miles west-southwest of the Azores, and was not a threat to land.

(Editing by David Adams and Peter Cooney)


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