Searchers were looking Friday for a cargo ship with 33 people on board that went missing during Hurricane Joaquin, as the category 4 storm continued to deliver fierce winds, flooding and torrential rain to the Bahamas, officials said.
The El Faro, a 735-foot cargo ship bound for San Juan in Puerto Rico from Jacksonville, Florida, lost communication at around 7:20 a.m. Thursday when a distress call from the ship indicated it was taking on water, the U.S. Coast Guard and the maritime company that owns the ship, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico, said.
TOTE MARITIME via EPA
The cargo ship has 28 Americans and five Polish nationals aboard, the U.S. Coast guard said.
“There are a number of possible reasons for the loss of communications, among them the increasing severity of Hurricane Joaquin,” company president Tim Nolan said in a statement Friday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and their families,” he said.
The hurricane was packing 140 mph winds and was about 25 miles south west of San Salvador in the Bahamas as of 2 p.m. Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center. It was moving north at 5 mph.
When the El Faro left Jacksonville on Tuesday Joaquin was just a tropical storm. The storm quickly grew in intensity and was declared a Category 4 storm Thursday as it approached the Bahamas carrying winds of 130 mph.
The Coast Guard sent a C-130 Hercules aircraft flying at low altitude to look for the vessel, and a “hurricane hunter” aircraft also kept an eye out for the ship, the Coast Guard said. Surface vessels are also being sent to the area, and searchers are trying to probe as close to the storm as they can, a Coast Guard official said.
The storm isn’t expected to weaken until Saturday when it finally crawls north and leaves the island chain behind.
No deaths or injuries due to the slow moving Hurricane Joaquin had been reported, but communication with several sparsely populated islands in the Bahamas had been cut off, Capt. Stephen Russell, the director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency, told The Associated Press. Thousands were without power and all schools were closed Friday, Weather.com reported.
Joaquin won’t likely become the first hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. this season, as the storm will probably veer away from the U.S., but the East Coast should brace for coastal flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
East Coast states could face “potentially unprecedented rainfall and life-threatening flooding,” over the weekend, according to Weather.com.
A stretch from Charleston, South Carolina, to Washington, D.C. is expected to be deluged as a result of a different weather pattern called a “Rex Block,” which is forecast to bring heavy rain to the area’s already-oversaturated grounds.