Hurricane Joaquin unleashed severe flooding and violent winds across the Bahamas on Friday when it made landfall. The storm, a Category 4 on the Saffir-Simpson scale, packed sustained winds of 210kph, making it the strongest Atlantic hurricane in five years.
As the storm moved into the region, it crawled across central and eastern parts with a forward speed of just 6kph. In the process, it ripped off roofs, uprooted trees, and dumped torrential rains.
Hundreds of people were left without power. Worst affected were Long Island, Cat Island and Rum Key as life-threatening flash floods set in. Authorities urged caution and closed schools, government offices and banks with Nassau’s Lynden Pindling International Airport closing right through into Saturday.
Some people have remained trapped in their homes, and by the time the hurricane finally clears away late on Saturday, worst affected areas could well have received up to 500mm of rain.
The storm has eased slightly. It currently lies 195km northeast of San Salvador with sustained winds of 205kph, making it a strong Category 3 hurricane. It has gathered forward speed now and is moving northeast at around 20kph.
There was some concern that Joaquin would go on to hit the flood-affected east coast of the US, but it now looks likely to stay offshore and head out into the open waters of the North Atlantic.
Major Atlantic hurricanes are uncommon during strong El Nino years. This is because of the higher ocean temperatures concentrating around the eastern Pacific. This is the first time that two major Atlantic hurricanes have been experienced in an El Nino year since records began in 1950. The other hurricane was Danny, which peaked at 185kph (Category 3) on August 21.