Hurricane Joaquin began swiftly moving away from the Bahamas on Saturday after two days of heavy rains and winds caused major floods, destroyed homes and left a 790-foot cargo ship with more than 30 crew members missing.
At 2 p.m. Saturday, the National Hurricane Center said Joaquin was a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds and was headed northeast at 18 mph. The track has the storm moving away from the United States but headed toward Bermuda.
A tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch have been issued for Bermuda. The island may begin feeling tropical storm conditions by Sunday morning with potential hurricane conditions coming later in the day.
The NHC said strong winds and rain will continue to impact parts of the central and southeastern Bahamas.
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The U.S. Coast Guard also continued its search Saturday for the El Faro. The cargo ship with a 33-person crew, including 28 Americans, has been missing since
Two Coast Guard HC-130 airplanes, and a U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft headed into the area multiple times Saturday, said Lt. Commander Gabe Somma. An HC-144 aircraft was also sent out to assess damage on the Bahamas Saturday morning.
The crew of the El Faro sent a mayday call about 7:30 a.m. Thursday as the ship, owned by TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, made its way from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico and lost propulsion near Crooked Island. A satellite report sent by the crew said the ship had taken on water and was listing at a 15-degree angle.
"TOTE Maritime continues to work closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and all available resources to locate and establish communication with the El Faro," said Tim Nolan, president of TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, in a statement.
The Coast Guard alerted two Air Force hurricane hunter planes flying over the storm, but the planes were unable to make contact Friday, Somma said.
Search efforts were initially called off at dark Friday night but have since resumed. Coast Guard cutters also made their way into the still-choppy waters.
"It's obviously concerning that we haven't heard from the ship in more than 48 hours," Somma said. "Our men and women are pushing hard to find them."
With the hurricane's track shifting east, concerns about impacts of heavy rains and flooding are easing for the U.S. coast. Still, officials cautioned that the storm could trigger dangerous rip currents.
Joaquin could prove to be one of the worst storms to hit the Bahamas. No major injuries have been reported as of Saturday but communication was out to many of the hardest hit and sparsely populated outer islands on the chain's eastern side.
Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency said the last storm to hover over the Bahamas for so long was Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
The NEMA said more than 200 people have been sheltered primarily in Eleuthera and San Salvador. Flooding was reported in Acklins and in some parts of Long Island.
The agency is requesting food, water, emergency shelter and damage assessment support along with water and sewage restoration assistance.
Nearly two dozen homes in a settlement on Crooked Island were destroyed Thursday, said Marvin Hanna, an Acklins representative.
"At that time, vehicles were floating around and the water level was up to the windows of some homes," he said.
The storm also unleashed heavy flooding across the eastern and central islands, cutting off roads in San Salvador and elsewhere.
Power also was knocked out to several islands, and Leslie Miller, executive chairman of the Bahamas Electricity Corp., said the company "is in no position to do much" to restore electricity.
Bahamasair announced flights to all Florida gateways, Nassau, Freeport, Exuma, Grand Bahama and other islands resumed service Saturday afternoon. However, there was still no service to Long Island, San Salvador, Acklins, Crooked Island, Mayaguana and Inagua.
Schools, businesses and government offices remained closed as the storm pummeled the island chain. It could take several days for emergency crews to make full damage assessments on some islands.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.