Hurricane Joaquin: Storm upgraded to Category Four as it bears down on the US

Experts believe the storm could strike the US east coast this weekend

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The Independent US

The governor of New Jersey has declared a state of emergency as residents of the US east coast braced for the arrival of Hurricane Joaquin - fearful that the storm that is gathering strength in the Atlantic could be a repeat of the devastating Sandy that struck three years ago. It could hit New York and New Jersey this weekend.

As the storm was upgraded to Category Four, officials sought to prepare for the worst.

"We know there is definitely going to be moderate and likely to be major flooding events in South Jersey Friday and Saturday with five to six inches of rainfall expected to come," Governor Chris Christie said at a Thursday morning press conference.

Earlier on Thursday, Joaquin unleased heavy flooding as it roared through lightly populated islands in the eastern Bahamas, with forecasters warning it could grow even stronger.

Joaquin was gaining strength in the central Bahamas and forecasters said it was likely to grow into a major storm, while following a path that would near the US east coast by the weekend.

“I hate to compare anything to Sandy, but the setup isn’t all that different. I know a lot of things can get overhyped, but this, I actually think, may be underhyped,” Rob Reale a meteorologist at New Jersey’s WeatherWorks, told NJ.com.

Some minor damage was reported by Bahamas officials late on Wednesday, and islanders rushed to prepare for storm surges and heavy rain from the approaching Joaquin. Authorities said the centre was likely to pass near or over several islands during the night and Thursday, the Associated Press said.

Joaquin was a Category 3 storm with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph and hurricane strength winds extending 35 miles from the eye early Thursday, the US National Hurricane Centre in Miami said. 

The storm was predicted to turn to the north and northwest toward the United States late Thursday or Friday, but forecasters were still gathering data trying to determine how it might affect its path.

“We’ve got Air Force reconnaissance planes continuously giving us data from inside the hurricane this morning, and we're going to be throwing a lot more aircraft resources at this problem over the next few days because it still is not certain whether or not Joaquin will directly impact the US east coast or stay out to sea,” said Rick Knabb, director of the National Hurricane Centre.

On Eleuthera, a narrow strip to the north of Cat Island, people removed stray coconuts and other debris from their yards and put up storm shutters in blustery winds, said Chris Gosling, who runs a volunteer ambulance service on the island. Islanders have learned from past storms not to take chances.

"People don't panic too much. There's nothing you can do about it. If it comes, it comes, and you do what you can," said Mr Gosling, who has lived on Eleuthera for 27 years. "If the forecast is right we will get some wind and rain and it will go back out to sea."

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