MIAMI • Hurricane Joaquin, an "extremely dangerous" Category 4 hurricane, lashed the central Bahamas with 209kmh winds, as jittery residents of the US east coast battened down, fearing they may be next.
Big and slow-moving, Joaquin was "drifting towards the northwest" after pounding the central Bahamas for hours on Thursday and early yesterday, the Miami-based National Hurricane Centre said.
Joaquin is capable of inflicting destruction with sustained winds clocked at 209kmh, according to the hurricane centre.
Classes were called off in the Bahamas, some flights were cancelled and cruise ships heading for the popular vacation destination were diverted elsewhere. Officials in the Bahamas urged people to brace themselves for up to 38cm of rain.
A life-threatening hurricane surge will raise water levels by as much as 3m above normal tide levels in parts of the central Bahamas islands, reports said.
On its current path, Hurricane Joaquin is likely to cause coastal flooding in the United States mid-Atlantic region, forecasters said. Torrential rains are also likely in the Carolinas and Virginia, US media reported.
Emergency preparations began as far north as New York, while airports in Washington, DC and Philadelphia were already experiencing weather-related flight delays, the Federal Aviation Administration said.
Residents of the eastern US cleared shop shelves of water, milk and other essentials before the hurricane's arrival.
Hurricane Joaquin is the third hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic season, which began in June and ends in November. Peak activity usually occurs in September.
The most destructive weather pattern so far this year was Tropical Storm Erika, which killed around 30 people and caused extensive damage in August on the small Caribbean island of Dominica.