Hurricane Alex hits Azores less hard than feared

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2016 6:32 AM

LISBON (Reuters) - Hurricane Alex toppled trees, cut power and flooded some homes in the Azores on Friday but the destruction was less than feared as the eye of the storm missed the archipelago by 20 km (12 miles).

There were no reports of casualties. Residents of the seven Portuguese islands had reinforced doors and windows with plywood and sandbags on Friday, and schools and administrative buildings were closed.

"The zone of the hurricane with the strongest winds is over the sea," said Nuno Moreira, meteorologist at the Portuguese Sea and Atmosphere Institute.

"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.

"The intensity of the hurricane itself is not likely to diminish for now, but as it starts to open distance from the archipelago, the forecast is for gusts to diminish gradually in the Azores in the coming hours," Moreira said.

Alex is a "Category 1" hurricane, the weakest rating on the five-tier Saffir-Simpson scale. As it heads north towards colder waters its intensity is likely to decline.

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)