HAMILTON, Bermuda (AP) — A weakening Hurricane Joaquin moved past Bermuda and farther out into the Atlantic on Monday after toppling trees and knocking out power to thousands in the wealthy financial haven and tourist destination.
The tiny British territory’s L.F. Wade International Airport was set to reopen Monday afternoon while insurance companies and banks began opening their doors. The power utility was working to restore service to roughly 15,000 customers who lost electricity during the storm’s passage and schools were closed for the day as crews cleared streets of debris.
After roaring across parts of the Bahamas as a major Category 4 hurricane, Joaquin lost steam as it headed north. Still, when its eye skirted Bermuda on Sunday it was a Category 2 storm with sustained winds of around 100 mph.
As it continued to track away from Bermuda late Monday morning, U.S. forecasters said it was a Category 1 storm with winds dropping to about 85 mph (140 kph). But the U.S. National Hurricane Center said there were still tropical storm conditions on the mid-Atlantic territory about 600 miles (965 kilometers) away from the closest part of the U.S. East Coast.
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In advance of Joaquin, many residents and business owners secured windows and doors. But others were far less worried in the tiny U.K. dependency accustomed to rough weather. At least one bar in the capital of Hamilton was packed Sunday afternoon with people riding out the hurricane with drinks and friends.
“I can think of worse places to be,” said Derrick Tucker in the crowded Robin Hood Pub and Restaurant as the wind whistled outside.
Big swells kicked up by the storm continued to affect the Bahamas and much of the eastern coast of the U.S., including South Carolina where a rough weather system was causing widespread flooding. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said that elevated water levels and large waves from Joaquin will affect the U.S. mid-Atlantic region, “causing significant beach and dune erosion with moderate coastal flooding likely.” Swells should spread northward along Canada’s Atlantic coast.
In South Carolina, hundreds of people were rescued from fast-moving floodwaters Sunday as days of driving rain hit a dangerous crescendo that buckled buildings and roads, closed a major East Coast interstate route and threatened the drinking water supply for the capital city.
The powerful rainstorm dumped more than a foot (30 centimeters) of rain overnight on Columbia, swamping hundreds of businesses and homes. Emergency workers waded into waist-deep water to help people trapped in cars, dozens of boats fanned out to rescue others in flooded neighborhoods and some were plucked from rooftops by helicopters. More door-to-door search operations are planned Monday.
Joaquin lashed the lightly populated southeastern Bahamas earlier in the week, damaging hundreds of homes and causing severe flooding on several small islands in the sprawling archipelago off Florida’s east coast. The government said it was still working to calculate the extent of the damage to infrastructure and private property but said Long Island was particularly hard hit.
Meanwhile, U.S. aircraft and ships searched the southeastern Bahamas for survivors from a U.S.-based cargo ship with 28 crew members from the United States and five from Poland. The U.S. Coast Guard said the craft sunk after losing power and communications when it was caught in the strengthening hurricane. The dead body of one crew member has been spotted, according to the Guard, but two lifeboats had no people or signs of life.
Late Monday morning, Joaquin’s center was located about 185 miles (300 kilometers) north of Bermuda, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 35 miles (55 kilometers). It was tracking north-northeast at 13 mph (20 kph), with a turn toward the northeast expected later Monday.
Contributor Josh Ball reported from Hamilton, Bermuda; AP writer David McFadden reported from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.