10/18/2014 10:09 EDT | Updated 12/18/2014 05:59 EST

Gonzalo Could Hit Southeastern Newfoundland Early Sunday

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Many Newfoundlanders prepared for wild weather as forecasters warned Gonzalo could still be hurricane strength when it nears the southeastern tip of the island early Sunday.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre said Saturday there is about a 20 per cent chance the storm will land on the southern Avalon Peninsula. It said Gonzalo could track toward St. Mary's Bay or about 150 kilometres southeast of Cape Race.

"Right now the storm is still a Category 2, down from a 4 about a day and a half ago, and we expect it to be right around hurricane strength as it passes just off the coast or very near the coast of Newfoundland," Meteorologist Bob Robichaud said from Halifax.

The centre said winds could gust to 90 kilometres an hour in the St. John's region and across the southern Avalon Peninsula, while hurricane-force wind warnings were in effect for the Grand Banks area. That's where three major offshore oil installations are located more than 300 kilometres east and southeast of St. John's.

The Canadian Hurricane Centre said waves for offshore areas were forecast to top 12 metres.

Operators of the Hibernia, Terra Nova and SeaRose sites where at least 700 people work at any given time announced no plans to evacuate.

Hibernia spokeswoman Margot Bruce-O'Connell said Friday all necessary precautions were being taken to ensure the safety of those on the gravity-based structure. She stressed it was "designed to withstand extreme weather conditions."

Husky Energy spokeswoman Colleen McConnell also said Friday that about 90 workers on the SeaRose floating production, storage and offloading vessel would not be removed. The GSF Grand Banks drill rig, with 116 people on board, disconnected from the well it was drilling in the nearby North Amethyst field to ride out the storm, she said.

McConnell said the vessels are equipped to withstand severe North Atlantic weather.

The fast-moving storm is expected to dump 50 millimetres of rain or more on some parts of southeastern Newfoundland.

"For the most part, this type of wind and rain is not something that is that unusual for Newfoundland," said Robichaud.

But storm surges could wreak havoc along the south coast, he added.

"This storm is going to be generating some very, very high waves out in the open ocean," he said. "Those waves should approach the southern tip of the Avalon Peninsula during the early morning hours. We could get waves in the five to eight metre range, with potential for the odd one getting up to 10 metres."

The centre said residents in those areas could see flooding.

Meteorologist Chris Fogarty said there is a concern that the storm will hit during high tide on Sunday morning around 6 a.m.

"If that timing matches, that exacerbates some of the wave impacts. It might damage some breakwaters or docks," said Fogarty. "The biggest impact for the land areas of Newfoundland is really going to be about the waves."

Whether or not the storm hits hard, many Newfoundlanders spent Saturday putting away patio furniture, stocking up on food and getting ready for possible blackouts.

Major storms are a way of life here but memories of hurricane Igor are still fresh in people's minds. It roared over eastern Newfoundland in September 2010 causing $125 million in damages. The military was called in to assist after road washouts cut off 90 communities as 22 declared states of emergency. Many people were without power for several days.

"I think it's really good to be more prepared than under-prepared," said resident Peter Lannon, who works at The Outfitters store in downtown St. John's.

"You really need to definitely be safe about a situation like this in case the power goes out for more than a day or two."

Provincial emergency officials urged people to ensure they had enough food, water and prescription medicine to last a few days if the worst happens.

"It's much better to put out the warnings and be prepared than to be blindsided by it," said St. John's resident Brian Williams as he and his wife bought groceries Saturday.

"I wouldn't want to be in Bermuda."

Hurricane Gonzalo crushed trees, flattened power lines and damaged Bermuda's main hospital on Friday night, but there were no deaths. Its winds and heavy surf continued to whip at the island Saturday morning as Gonzalo quickly moved northward.

— With files from Aly Thomson in Halifax and The Associated Press

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