Updated at 2:55 p.m. ET
Hurricane Joaquin is moving rapidly away from the Bahamas as a Category 4 storm, with sustained winds of 155 mph. Although forecasters say it will stay well offshore from the U.S. East Coast, Bermuda could be in the storm's crosshairs.
Even without a direct hit on the Eastern Seaboard, severe flooding, partly from hurricane-generated rain, was is a big concern in the Carolinas.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard is continuing the search for a 735-foot cargo ship carrying 33 crew, all but five Americans, that has been missing in the Bahamas since sending out a distress call early Thursday.
At 2 p.m. ET, the storm was located about 550 miles southwest of Bermuda. After virtually stalling over the Bahamas for days, the storm has finally picked up speed and was moving northeast at 18 mph, the National Hurricane Center says.
Parts of the Bahamas are under a hurricane warning and the Bermuda Weather Service as issued a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch for the Atlantic island. Joaquin could reach Bermuda –- an island that, despite its location, tends to be missed by most tropical storms — early Monday as a Category 1 storm.
The Miami Herald reports that "initial damage reports said roofs were ripped off, trees uprooted and utility poles downed" in the Bahamas, but that it was too early to do a complete assessment of the damage:
" 'As the hurricane continues to cross some of our small islands, we are eagerly awaiting to hear about the outcome,' said Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.
"Nearly two dozen homes in a settlement on Crooked Island were destroyed on Thursday, said Marvin Hanna, an Acklins representative.
" 'At that time, vehicles were floating around and the water level was up to the windows of some homes,' he said."
Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami's Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science writes in his blog: "Joaquin has devastated parts of the central Bahamas with nearly 2 feet of rain, destructive storm surge, tropical storm force winds for 3 days, and hurricane-force winds for 1.5 days. It will begin to clear up there today, so I'm sure we will start seeing more photos and videos of the aftermath."
The Weather Channel reports that "historic flooding" is possible in the Carolinas and other mid-Atlantic states as a result of Joaquin:
"Relentless onshore winds and potentially unprecedented rainfall will lead to a double whammy of freshwater and oceanwaterflooding over the next several days for many states on the U.S. East Coast, despite the fact that all of those states will be well west of Hurricane Joaquin as it follows a track several hundred miles offshore over the Atlantic.
"Flash flooding is already ongoing and has become serious in a few locations, including the Charleston, South Carolina metro."
The Herald reports that the Coast Guard on Friday repeatedly flew a C-130 through the storm looking for the El Faro, the missing vehicle carrier, which was in an area of 20 to 30-foot waves.
"This vessel appears very close to where the eye of the storm appears to be, and we cannot send our aircraft into the eye," [Lt. Commander Gabe Somma] said. "They're working as hard as they can, but they are pushing the envelope."
"The crew of the El Faro sent a mayday call about 7:30 a.m. Thursday as it was making its way from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico and lost propulsion near Crooked Island. A satellite report sent by the crew said the ship had taken on water and was listing at a 15-degree angle. The Coast Guard alerted two Air Force hurricane hunter planes flying over the storm, but the planes were unable to make contact, Somma said. The C-130 then searched throughout the day, returning only to refuel."
Somma said the Coast Guard would resume its search today. "We'll be hitting this thing very hard in the morning," he said.