Hurricane Joaquin pounded the Bahamas for a second day with powerful winds and waves on Friday, but it was not expected to be a major threat to the U.S. East Coast, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
An easterly shift in the forecast track of the slow-moving Joaquin spared the Carolinas, New York and New Jersey, where Superstorm Sandy killed more than 120 people and caused $70 billion of property damage in October 2012.
“The forecast models continue to indicate a track farther away from the United States East Coast and the threat of direct impacts from Joaquin in the Carolinas and mid-Atlantic states appears to be decreasing,” the NHC said.
Despite the more favorable outlook, the Miami-based U.S. forecasters said Joaquin could still cause flooding from South Carolina to New England.
A potentially catastrophic Category 4 hurricane on a scale of 1 to 5, Joaquin was predicted to make a sharp northerly turn on Friday before gradually losing strength over cooler water.
The third hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic season, Joaquin was about 45 miles (70 km) south of San Salvador island in the Bahamas, with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles per hour (215 kph), the NHC said. The storm was moving northwest at only three miles (5 km) per hour.
The governors of New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Maryland all declared states of emergency and announced various measures, including the mobilization of National Guard troops, in preparation for the storm.
"I cannot stress enough that we are talking about the real possibility of deadly flooding in many areas around our state," North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory told a news conference on Thursday.
There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries from the Bahamas, but photos posted on social media showed major flooding on Aklins and Long Island in the archipelago, with roads under water and waves crashing against the walls of houses.
Schools and business were closed on several islands in the path of the storm.
"People are all getting ready, shuttering up their houses, going to the store for plywood," said Chris Gosling who runs a voluntary ambulance service in Eleuthera, population 8,000.
Joaquin's hurricane-force winds, which extended 50 miles (80 km) from its center, were forecast to miss the larger Bahamas islands and the main cities and cruise ship ports of Freeport and Nassau.
Storm surges may push water as high as 6 to 12 feet (1.8 to 3.6 meters) above normal tide levels in the central Bahamas, the NHC said, with up to 25 inches (63 cm) of rain possible in some areas.