By Catarina Demony
TERCEIRAISLAND, Portugal (Reuters) – Hurricane Lorenzo reached Portugal’s Azores islands early on Wednesday, causing power outages and knocking down trees across the mid-Atlantic archipelago, authorities said.
The hurricane, packing 90-mile per hour (150 kph) winds, was likely to cause life-threatening surf and rip current conditions, with only a slow weakening forecast over the next 48 hours, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center said.
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 NHC said hurricane-force winds are currently battering the western Azores, while the archipelago’s central islands are experiencing tropical storm conditions.
The eye of hurricane Lorenzo is near Flores island in the western Azores but it is expected to move northeast quickly. Hurricane warnings are still in effect for the islands of Flores, Corvo, Faial, Pico, Sao Jorge, Graciosa and Terceira.
Civil Protection said the winds won’t gain much more intensity and will eventually become weaker.
No one has been injured although there have been cases of trees falling down, Civil Protection said.
Neves said power cuts and mobile network problems were reported on Flores, one of the worst-hit islands.
“We hope to fix those issues in the next few days,” Neves said.
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 since been downgraded, striking the Azores as a Category 1.
Schools and non-emergency services will be closed across the Azores on Wednesday, the regional government has said, with ports on some islands also shut. Authorities have closed numerous streets and roads.
NHC said Lorenzo will move away from the Azores on Wednesday and closer to Ireland on Thursday evening.
“Lorenzo is expected to be a strong extra-tropical cyclone when it approaches Ireland,” NHC added.
(Reporting by Catarina Demony, Miguel Pereira, Rafael Marchante and Marco Trujillo in Azores; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Richard Pullin and Hugh Lawson)