Rescue workers yesterday scoured the waters off the Bahamas for a missing cargo ship with 33 people aboard, as forecasters upgraded Hurricane Joaquin to a Category 4 storm.
Joaquin moved away from the Bahamas, where it destroyed homes, caused flooding and left hundreds without power, and was expected to bypass the US, whose southeast coast has already been ravaged by heavy flooding.
The hurricane, which was packing 155mph (250kph) winds, had become “severe” the US National Hurricane Center said, as it announced Joaquin’s ascent up the five-point scale.
Meanwhile rescuers were frantically searching for the El Faro cargo vessel, with which contact was lost early Thursday as the dangerous weather system approached the Bahamas.
There were “still no signs of the vessel or any communication with them, but we are hoping for better weather conditions to be able to do more extensive searching,” Coast Guard chief petty officer Ryan Doss said.
En route from Florida to Puerto Rico, the 735-ft (224-m) cargo ship was reported to be caught in the storm near Crooked Island, which is part of the Bahamas island chain.
It was from there that it sent a satellite notification stating the ship had lost propulsion and had a 15-degree list.
A total of 28 Americans and five Poles were on board, the Coast Guard said.
Rescue workers however sounded an optimistic note Saturday as the storm moved away from the Bahamas, where the government discontinued all hurricane watches and warnings for its islands.
“As the storm moves to the north we can get further into where we believe the ship’s last position was,” Doss said.
Joaquin has increased its forward speed and its eye should pass west of Bermuda today, the NHC said in its latest update.
Although Joaquin is now expected to travel far to the east of the US, “a prolonged period of elevated water levels and large waves will affect the mid-Atlantic region,” the NHC said in a statement.
This will cause “significant beach and dune erosion with moderate coastal flooding likely,” it added.
Emergencies were already declared along swathes of the US East Coast and residents were evacuated after a powerful rainstorm lashed several states.
The weather system was thought to have been whipped up in part by Hurricane Joaquin.
North and South Carolina were particularly hard-hit, with severe flooding already occurring in downtown Charleston, meteorologist Mike Doll said on the AccuWeather website.
Part of the city’s downtown was closed to traffic, city police said on Twitter, while further north in Myrtle Beach, torrents of rain were causing flooding.
Doll predicted rainfall of one to two inches (2.5 to 5cm) per hour in some areas of the Carolinas.
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