Hurricane Joaquin began picking up speed as it finally moved away from the Bahamas after clobbering parts of the islands with over 36 hours of storm surge flooding, high winds and torrential rainfall.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Joaquin was centered Saturday morning about 120 miles (175 kms) northeast of San Salvador, Bahamas, and about 700 miles (1,130 kms) southwest of Bermuda.
It has maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph), and is moving northeast at 13 mph (20 kph).
Meanwhile, Joaquin’s threat to the U.S. East Coast was fading as new forecasts showed it was likely to curve out into the Atlantic while moving north and weakening in coming days.
Even with Hurricane Joaquin no longer as big of a threat, the weekend promises little relief for the most waterlogged parts of the East Coast.
The National Weather Service says the risk of flooding will continue through Monday morning, especially in parts of North and South Carolina that already have gotten up to 11 inches of rain this week. Forecasters say some areas could see storm totals as high as 15 inches.
Once the rain ends, as early as Saturday in some places, the threat of flooding persists because the ground is too saturated to absorb water, meteorologists say. And high winds could bring down trees like the one that hit a vehicle near Fayetteville, North Carolina, killing a passenger.
The storm also has been linked to a drowning in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Flood watches and warnings also are in effect in Delaware and parts of New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia.
Meteorologists said the Carolinas will probably get the worst of it, including possible landslides in the mountains.
“It’s going to be a slow-motion disaster,” said meteorologist Ryan Maue of Weather Bell Analytics.
Hurricane Joaquin, no longer seen as a danger to the Atlantic Seaboard, continued Friday on a path expected to keep it well off the U.S. coast.
“It looks like we dodged a bullet this time,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said amid street flooding at the Jersey shore, devastated by Superstorm Sandy nearly three years ago. “Let’s keep our fingers crossed.”
Forecasters warned that even as Joaquin peels away from the coast, its effects will be felt, because it will continue supplying tropical moisture to the gusty rainstorm stretching from Georgia to New England.
South Carolina could get more rain in three days than it normally gets during the entire fall.
“We are growing increasingly concerned about the situation in South Carolina, western North Carolina and perhaps even in northeast Georgia,” said David Novak, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center. “We’re pretty confident that some places are going to have 15 inches. A lot of places are going to have 5, 6, 7 inches of rain, particularly the whole state of South Carolina.”
Parts of Virginia and Maryland could get up to 5 inches.
The storm was blamed for the death of Sylvia Arteaga, 56, drowned in a flash flood under a railroad bridge in Spartanburg, South Carolina, while driving home from the night shift.
Ocean City, Maryland, had 5 feet of water in low-lying areas at high tide Friday afternoon. But by evening the floodwaters had largely receded, easing Geri Stoll’s concern that successive high tides would bring significantly worse flooding.
“As long as we get rid of what occurred already, then when the new tide comes in, we might get a couple more inches into the yard, but it won’t be anything major for us in downtown Ocean City,” she said.
In Poquoson, Virginia, Joy Bryant canceled a yard sale because her property was half-submerged and cars couldn’t get down the road. Still, she was relieved Joaquin was moving away.
Steve Stougard of Norfolk, Virginia, called Joaquin’s course “an answered prayer.”
The U.S. Coast Guard resumed its search early Saturday across Bahamian waters for a missing 735-foot cargo ship with 33 crewmembers, including 28 Americans, that lost contact during Hurricane Joaquin, which was moving away from the sprawling archipelago.
“We’re going to go and try and save lives. We’re going to push it to the operational limits as far as we can,” Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said of rescue efforts.
A hurricane warning is still in effect for parts of the Bahamas. The Bermuda Weather Service has issued a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch for Bermuda.