Hurricane Joaquin gained strength as it bore down on the central Bahamas yesterday and forecasters said it was likely to grow into a major storm while following a path that would near the United States east coast by the weekend.
Some minor damage was reported by Bahamas officials yesterday and islanders rushed to prepare for storm surges and heavy rain. Authorities said the hurricane’s centre was likely to pass near or over several islands.
Joaquin was a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120mph and hurricane strength winds extending 35 miles from the eye early yesterday, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said. The centre of the storm was about 20 miles north of Samana Cays, Bahamas, and moving west-southwest at 5mph.
The storm was predicted to turn to the north and north-west toward the US last night or today but forecasters were still gathering data trying to determine how it might affect the US.
“We’ve got air force reconnaissance planes continuously giving us data from inside the hurricane this morning, and we’re going to be throwing a lot more aircraft resources at this problem over the next few days because it still is not certain whether or not Joaquin will directly impact the US east coast or stay out to sea,” Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Centre, said.
On Eleuthera, a narrow strip to the north of Cat Island, people removed stray coconuts and other debris from their yards and put up storm shutters in blustery winds, said Chris Gosling, who runs a volunteer ambulance service on the island.
Islanders have learned from past storms not to take any chances.
“People don’t panic too much. There’s nothing you can do about it. If it comes, it comes, and you do what you can,” said Mr Gosling, who has lived on Eleuthera for 27 years. “If the forecast is right, we will get some wind and rain and it will go back out to sea.”
A hurricane warning was posted for Eleuthera as well as San Salvador, Cat Island and Rum Cay, with the threat of storm surges, coastal flooding and five to ten inches of rain, according to Geoffrey Greene, a senior forecaster with the Bahamas Meteorology Department.
“We would be very concerned about them,” Mr Greene said.
Stephen Russell, director of the country’s National Emergency Management Agency, said on Wednesday night that storm surges had washed out a portion of the main road on San Salvador and some people in low-lying areas of Mayaguana island were urged to evacuate their homes.
Those islands have relatively small populations, fewer than 1,000 on San Salvador, but they are vulnerable in a storm since most of the people live along the shoreline in modest homes.
A warning also was issued for some more populous islands in the north-western Bahamas, including Grand Bahama and New Providence, where the capital, Nassau, is.
The US National Hurricane Centre’s long-term forecast showed the storm could near the US east coast along North Carolina and Virginia on Sunday.
“Residents of the Carolinas north should be paying attention and monitoring the storm. There’s no question,” said Eric Blake, a specialist at the centre.
“If your hurricane plans got a little dusty because of the light hurricane season, now is a good time to update them.”