Updated at 1:35 p.m. ET
A powerful Hurricane Joaquin was pummeling the Bahamas as it stayed put over the islands with sustained winds of 130 mph.
The storm is expected to begin a gradual march north but most forecast models now place it firmly on a trajectory that stays well offshore from the U.S. East Coast, alleviating some concern over its potential impact.
Even so, as Brian McNoldy, a cyclone researcher at the University of Miami's Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, writes for The Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog:
"[Although] it looks like direct landfall (for the U.S. East) will be avoided, a dangerous rainfall situation is setting up over the Southeast and parts of the Mid-Atlantic this weekend, due in part to the influence of Joaquin."
"As of 8 a.m., Joaquin was a powerful Category 4 ... But last night, Joaquin's pressure fell to an astonishing 931 millibars — the lowest pressure of any Atlantic hurricane since Igor in 2010."
The Weather Channel says: "Dozens are trapped in their homes in the central Bahamas, with authorities unable to reach them. All schools have been closed in The Bahamas."
A 735-foot vehicle carrier, with 33 crew aboard, was missing after sending an emergency satellite notification indicating that it was caught in the storm, had lost its engines and was listing. The U.S. Coast Guard was conducting a search-and-rescue operation by air.
And, The Associated Press reports:
"[No] fatalities or injuries have been reported so far, according to Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency. He told reporters that officials lost communication with a couple of islands overnight and said power was knocked out in some areas.
Officials asked Bahamians to stay on alert as the slow-moving storm roared through the island chain, where schools, businesses and government offices were closed."