Hurricane Gonzalo has made a direct hit on the island of Bermuda as a category two storm, carrying drenching rains and punishing winds that plunged thousands of residents into the dark.

At 0000 GMT on Saturday, the northern portion of the eye of Gonzalo, packing "damaging winds and life-threatening storm surges," moved over the island, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Al Jazeera was told that between 80 to 95 percent of the island has lost power.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 175 km per hour, and was moving northeast at 26 km per hour. It is the strongest storm to make a direct hit on the island in a decade.

Gonzalo has already killed one person in the Caribbean and caused property damage on neighboring islands before it hit Bermuda, a British overseas territory that is home to around 60,000 people.

Residents, whipped by winds and rains earlier Thursday as the hurricane approached, reported a strange calm as the center of the storm passed.

"We are definitely in the eye now, it's completely quiet," said Katie Titterton via text message from an apartment building near Grape Bay in central Bermuda.

Airport shuttered

Schools, businesses, grocery stores and government offices all closed early on Thursday, and many people boarded up the windows of their homes and placed sandbags outside in preparation of potential landfall in the evening.

The NHC said flooding was expected over much of the island from heavy rainfall and surges that already affected parts of the Virgin Islands, the northern coasts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, portions of the Bahamas, as well as the southeastern coast of the United States.

Bermuda's international airport shuttered operations late Thursday, and was not expected to reopen until Saturday at the earliest.

The Bermuda Weather Service warned the storm's impact could be as severe as Hurricane Fabian in 2003, which killed four people and caused $300m worth of damage.

Gonzalo is the seventh storm of the Atlantic season -- which stretches from June to November -- and the third hurricane to slam the Caribbean this year.

Hurricane Cristobal left at least four people dead in late August when it thrashed the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands and the Dominican Republic with heavy rains causing serious flooding.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies