By Don Burgess and Ivelisse Rivera
HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) -Bermudians boarded up windows and stocked up on groceries and flashlight batteries as Hurricane Fiona drew nearer on Thursday after causing several deaths and leaving many people sweltering without power in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Scott Barnes, who fishes for mahi-mahi and tuna, was adding three or four anchors to a boat moored near the shore, and planned to move his two other boats to a protective cove to shelter them from the worst of the Category 4 storm.
"I'm taking this one serious," he said.
As of Thursday afternoon, Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 miles (215 km) per hour and was about 345 miles (555 km) west-southwest of Bermuda and moving north-northeast at 16 mph (26 kph), the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
A hurricane warning remained in effect for all of Bermuda, home to more than 60,000 people, and the eye of the storm is expected to pass just west of Bermuda on Thursday night, the center said.
"It could still jog east and hit Bermuda," said Eric Blake, acting branch chief for the hurricane center in Miami. Even on its current path, hurricane-force winds could hit the island at 70 mph (110 kph) Thursday night and up to four inches (10.16 cm) of rain are expected.
Across the island, people cleared loose debris from yards and readied to close storm shutters: Many homes are built with small shuttered windows, slate roofs and limestone blocks to withstand frequent hurricanes.
"I'm taking every precaution to stay safe," said Dean Williams, a resident of the capital city of Hamilton. "Preparation is the key because at its highest intensity we can do nothing but wait it out."
At least eight deaths have been attributed to Fiona, including that of a sick 4-month-old infant whose mother struggled to get to the hospital due to blocked roads. Investigations into the cause of deaths continue.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has so far attributed four deaths to the storm in Puerto Rico. A fifth person was killed in Guadeloupe earlier in the week.
U.S. President Joe Biden, at a briefing in New York, said the federal government was funding debris removal, power and water restoration and shelter and food for the next month in the U.S. territory.
"We are with you," he said. "We are not going to walk away."
An estimated 1 million homes and businesses remained without power in Puerto Rico on Thursday after Fiona hit on Sunday, causing an island-wide power outage for its roughly 3.3 million people. LUMA Energy said full restoration could take several days.
People sweltered in the heat and humidity.
"We are spending almost $70 dollars a day between gasoline for the generator and food," said account executive Kendra Nieves, 44, who lives in Cidra with her husband and 11-year-old daughter. They have been sleeping with all the windows and doors open, hoping for a cooling breeze. Gathering a few gallons of fuel took trips to several different towns, and preparing food was difficult without water.
"We make a strong breakfast to last us until dinner and for dinner, we make sandwiches," she said.
Loumarie Rosa, a 26-year-old assistant at a chiropractic clinic, said there was no gasoline for her generator to be found in her hometown of Hatillo. The heat overwhelmed her.
"It's like the earth is on fire," she said. "We can't even turn on a fan."
(Reporting by Don Burgess in Hamilton and Ivelissa Rivera in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in New York; Writing by Jonathan Allen in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Chang)