Hurricane Joaquin unleased heavy flooding as it roared through sparsely populated islands in the eastern Bahamas on Thursday as a Category 4 storm, with forecasters warning it could grow more intense while following a path that would near the U.S. East Coast by the weekend.
The storm battered trees and buildings as surging waters reached the windows of some homes on Long Island in the Bahamas and inundated the airport runway at Ragged Island. There were no immediate reports of casualties, according to Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said he was amending laws to mandate evacuations because some people were refusing to move into shelters.
"We do not know the impact of 130 miles an hour on those areas," he said, referring to the hurricane's
Islands such as San Salvador, Cat Island and Rum Cay were expected to experience the most significant effects before Hurricane Joaquin begins an expected shift north, forecasters said.
“There's still a distinct possibility that his could make landfall somewhere in the U.S.,” said Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist and spokesman for the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.
The storm could hit the U.S. coast anywhere between North Carolina and Massachusetts, but the NHC's latest storm track shows it hitting the New York region, where the scars of 2012's Superstorm Sandy remain in battered coastal areas. The governors of New Jersey and North Carolina declared a state of emergency on Thursday.
Joaquin is a Category 4 storm maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and hurricane strength winds extending 50 miles from the eye, the NHC said. The storm is expected to turn north toward the U.S. East Coast, but forecasters were trying to determine how it might affect the U.S. East Coast, which is already suffering flooding and heavy rains from separate storms.
The NHC said parts of the Bahamas could see storm surge raising sea levels 5 to 8 feet above normal, with 10 to 15 inches of rain falling on the central Bahamas.
“Residents of the Carolinas north should be paying attention and monitoring the storm. There's no question,” said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the NHC. “If your hurricane plans got a little dusty because of the light hurricane season, now is a good time to update them.”
Al Jazeera with wire services