By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
HURRICANE Joaquin has “all the ingredients to become a category five hurricane,” increasing the possibility of causalities, structural and coastal damage in the Bahamas, according to Meteorological Officer Ian McKenzie.
The “unpredictable” hurricane strengthened into an extremely dangerous category four storm on Thursday afternoon as it pounded the central and southeast islands. Forecasters said it could grow more intense before following a path that would lead it out of the Bahamas and near the US’ East Coast.
Last night, Exuma, Long Island, Cat Island and Acklins were said to be experiencing severe flooding, with scores of persons reportedly trapped in their homes as flood waters began to rise.
In Exuma, police officers were called after persons in low-lying areas refused to leave their homes and stay in shelters.
Joaquin’s current projected trajectory does not put New Providence in the storm’s direct path, however Mr McKenzie warned that residents should closely monitor this system because “it is behaving erratically and taking it’s own path.” He warned that if the hurricane continues to strengthen to category five, it could have “devastating affects” on the southern islands of the Bahamas.
“We want residents in New Providence to continue to closely monitor this system, play close attention to the progress of this storm . . .we cannot predict what will happen,” Mr McKenzie said.
“This kind of storm means extreme damage, structural damage, vegetation damage, coupled with heavy rainfall, coastal damage and flooding. We have got reports of severe flooding in Long Island, San Salvador and Cat Island. As a matter of fact, Cat Island experienced coastal flooding on Wednesday in advance of the storm. Joaquin has all the ingredients to increase to a category five hurricane and if that happens it will be unfortunate because it will cause an increase in storm surges as well as wind damage. New Providence should get ready in the event that something happens, we should not be rushing to get prepared. Residents should make sure certain things are in place. It is difficult to predict what kind of impact this storm will have on New Providence right now, there is a great degree of uncertainty.”
Last night, Hurricane Joaquin was moving generally southwestwards at six miles per hour. As of 5pm, the eye of the storm was 26 miles east-northeast of Samana Cay, 36 miles southeast of Acklins and 45 miles east-southeast of Long Island.
A turn toward the northwest and north is expected on Friday and a faster motion towards the north is expected Friday night or Saturday. On the forecast track, the centre of Joaquin will pass near or over portions of the northwestern Bahamas on Friday.
A hurricane warning is in effect for the northwest, central and parts of the southeast Bahamas, including the Abacos, the Exumas, Cat Island, Rum Cay, San Salvador, Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay and Mayaguana.
A tropical storm warning is now in effect for the Turks and Caicos Islands, Ragged Island and Inagua.
Maximum sustained winds have increased to near 130 miles per hour with higher gusts, additional strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours with some fluctuations in intensity through Saturday.
Residents should ensure that all preparations have been completed and remain indoors once conditions deteriorate.
Joaquin is expected to produce a total rainfall of 10 to 15 inches over the central Bahamas with isolated amounts of up to 20 inches. Heavy rains will continue to cause severe flooding in the central and south Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The storm is predicted to turn to the north and northwest toward the United States on Friday, but forecasters were still gathering data to determine how it might affect the US East Coast, which was already suffering flooding and heavy rains from separate storms.