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Heavy flooding was reported in the Bahamas Thursday as Hurricane Joaquin — now an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 storm — roared through sparsely populated islands on a track to swing north and potentially strike the U.S.
Joaquin grew to a Category 4 hurricane earlier Thursday, and by 11 p.m. it was about 75 miles south of San Salvador, the National Weather Service said. The hurricane had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and was moving west at 3 mph, the NWS said.
The hurricane caused heavy flooding on Long Island in the Bahamas, where water reached the windows of some homes, The Associated Press reported. The runway at an airport on Ragged Island was inundated, and around 565 people on Acklins were reportedly trapped in their homes.
There were no immediate reports of casualties, according to Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.
Prime Minister Perry Christie said he was amending laws to mandate evacuations because some people were refusing to move into shelters. "We do not know the impact of 130 miles an hour on those areas," he said, referring to the hurricane's winds. "We know it's a horrific kind of experience."
Cuba issued a tropical storm warning for the provinces of Camaguey, Los Tunas, Holguin, and Guantanamo, the NWS said.
The hurricane is forecast to swing north on Friday and it has the potential to hit the East Coast of the United States this weekend. Some models predict it could be swept out to sea and miss the coast altogether. But the storm is still expected to be felt in the U.S. even if it doesn't hit land.
Heavy rain is forecast to hit parts of Virginia and North Carolina Saturday, and the governors of those states have declared states of emergency and warned of possible flooding. Several U.S. Navy ships stationed in the Hampton Roads area were sent out to sea, the Navy said.
More than 10 inches of rain could fall on Charleston, South Carolina, by Sunday, the National Weather Service said.
"Residents of the Carolinas north should be paying attention and monitoring the storm. There's no question," said Eric Blake, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, told the AP. "If your hurricane plans got a little dusty because of the light hurricane season, now is a good time to update them."