Weather system deluges US East Coast as hurricane threat eases

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The south-eastern US coast was likely to be spared the wrath of Hurricane Joaquin, but rainfall from a low pressure system drenched several states Saturday.

Flood warnings were posted in several coastal states, reaching accumulations of up to 25 centimetres in already saturated areas.

One of the worst hit was South Carolina, which the US National Weather Service said was at “high risk for excessive rainfall Saturday and Saturday night.” Portions of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee were also in danger of flooding.

President Barack Obama declared an emergency in South Carolina and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response efforts.

The governors of several eastern states, declared emergencies in preparation for the extreme weather.

The storm, which was about 1,000 kilometres south-east of Savannah, Georgia, on the US east coast Saturday at 8 pm Saturday (0000 GMT), is expected to turn north-northeast away from the US coast on Sunday.

Joaquin maintained its category 4 rating on the Saffir-Simpson scale with maximum sustained winds speeds of nearly 245 kilometres per hour and higher gusts, the National Hurricane Centre said. It is moving at a speed of about 28 kilometres per hour.

The eye of the storm is forecast to pass west of Bermuda on Sunday, the hurricane centre said. However, a small deviation to the east of the forecast track would bring the core of the hurricane and stronger winds closer to Bermuda.

Joaquin damaged houses and uprooted trees in the Bahamas on Friday. It also cut off communication to a lightly populated island in the archipelago.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 75 kilometres from the eye, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 335 kilometres, the hurricane centre said.

“Some fluctuations in intensity are likely [Saturday night], but Joaquin is forecast to gradually weaken during the next 48 hours,” the hurricane centre said.

A low-pressure system dumping rain on the East Coast turned the streets of some South Carolina towns into rivers.

“We are about to go through something that we have never gone through before,” Governor Nikki Haley said. “We are going to see rainfall at historic levels.”

The US Coast Guard deployed airplanes, helicopters and ships near the Bahamas on Saturday to search for a 224-metre cargo vessel that went missing with 33 people on board.

The ship’s crew last contacted coast guard authorities early Thursday, saying it had lost propulsion and was leaning to its side by 15 degrees.

“The crew reported the ship had previously taken on water, but that all flooding had been contained,” the coast guard said.

Search crews covered more than 2,200 square kilometres Friday in the search of the crew, but hurricane winds and swells up to 10 metres hampered those efforts.

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