Hurricane Bill heads for Obamas’ vacation island


Washington : Hurricane Bill, the first major Atlantic storm of the season, churned up the US East Coast late Saturday and was within reach of Martha’s Vineyard, where the US first family plans to spend their vacation.

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With the worst of the storm expected to pass by the island within the next 24 hours, there were no changes in US President Barack Obama’s plans to spend the week at a large waterfront property on the prestigious vacation island.

Former president Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spent several of their summer vacations there while Bill was president.

The island is also home to an upscale vacation community for African Americans, who have included moviemaker Spike Lee and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr, a friend of Obama’s who made headlines after he was arrested in his own home for disorderly conduct in July.

Hurricane Bill was downgraded to a category one on the Saffir-Simpson scale by the National Hurricane Centre after it swept across Bermuda and approached the North American land mass with winds of 140 km/hr.

Coastal states from Florida to Maine battened down their hatches in preparation for high winds, flooding and heavy rainfall.

At 2100 GMT, the hurricane’s centre was about 480 km south-southeast of Nantucket, Massachusetts, which is near Martha’s Vineyard, and about 940 km south-southwest of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

The storm is expected to weaken as it hits the cooler waters of the North Atlantic.

Stormy seas were still washing across the Bahamas and Bermuda. Local officials were warning of extremely dangerous rip tides and surf conditions along the US coast, where many beaches have been closed.

Obama and his family – wife Michelle and daughters Sasha and Malia – are renting Blue Heron Farm, a Martha Vineyard estate owned by a Mississippi businessman who is a registered Republican and a contributor to Obama’s rival for the presidency in 2008, Senator John McCain, according to the Vineyard Gazette.

Costs for rental of the 11.5-hectare property, estimated at $35,000-50,000 for the week are to be divided one-third each between the Obamas, his security protection team and the White House entourage, the newspaper reported.

The waterfront property has a swimming pool and a basketball court, offering the president one of his favourite past time of hoops.