Heavy rain comes to East Coast as Hurricane Joaquin stalls over Bahamas

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Joaquin whipped parts of the Bahamas, an archipelago nation with more than 350,000 people, and the slow-moving storm is expected to continue pounding the islands through Friday.

(CNN) — Hurricane Joaquin might just be a no-show this weekend along the East Coast of the United States, but that doesn’t mean residents there are out of the woods just yet. Heavy rain and potential flooding remains a concern, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Early Friday, Joaquin remained essentially stalled over the Bahamas for a second morning. It began moving northward later in the day, the Hurricane Center said.

The latest tracking maps show the powerful Category 4 storm staying well offshore after it leaves the island chain, which is expected to happen sometime on late Friday or early Saturday morning.

What’s not going away is the rain for the already waterlogged region.

Moisture from Joaquin is being pumped into a weather system stalled along the coast.

“We’re looking at historic flooding in coastal South Carolina,” said CNN meteorologist Rachel Aissen. Ten to 15 inches of rain is expected.

Charleston, South Carolina, will be especially hard hit, but heavy rain will penetrate all the way inland to Columbia, more than 100 miles away.

Gov. Nikki Haley declared a state of emergency in anticipation of major flooding.

Friday night football games were moved up a day over flooding concerns in the state’s Lowcountry region. Others were postponed.

Ship goes missing

The U.S. Coast Guard says it’s searching for a container ship with 33 crew members on board that may have gotten caught in Joaquin’s path.

The El Faro, a 735-foot-long cargo ship, was traveling from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Jacksonville, Florida, and is reported to be caught somewhere near Crooked Island in the Bahamas.

The Coast Guard said it received a report on Thursday morning that the ship had lost propulsion and was taking on water, but that the flooding has been contained.

As of Friday morning, the Coast Guard said it had not been able to communicate with the El Faro’s crew.

Two Air Force C-130 planes were deployed on Thursday to locate the ship, but were not successful.

Search efforts were expected to continue on Friday.

Not just South Carolina

Flood advisories and warnings stretch from North Florida to Connecticut and as far west as parts of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The governors of New Jersey, North Carolina and Virginia joined South Carolina in issuing their own states of emergency.

“I don’t think we’re going to see wind impact,” CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers said, “but we’re going to see flooding impact. We have all of this tropical moisture, and it’s going to get sucked into the Carolinas, into Virginia, maybe even into Georgia, and that will cause flooding.”

The Appalachian Mountains could get soaked because of the interaction between Joaquin and a low-pressure system over the southeast United States, according to Myers.

The moisture created from those two systems could then flow down from rivers into cities, creating the potential for significant flooding in some areas.

Along Virginia Beach’s Atlantic Avenue, a main thoroughfare about two blocks from the ocean, business owners appeared to be taking a wait-and-see approach.

There were no boarded-up windows. Stores remained open, but there were only a few customers.

Beach towns in October can be that way.

There was no panic at the Sunsations beach shop.

“We’re usually fine here,” said Sharlotte Castillo, “maybe a little rain, but we’re staying open.”

Even as far north as Waterbury, Vermont, Skip Flanders was keeping an eye out. He’s seen firsthand from 2011’s Hurricane Irene that the heavy rains from a huge tropical system like this can have devastating effects far from the coast.

“We had 28 inches of water in our house from Irene,” Flanders told CNN affiliate WCAX. “I certainly hope that something of that proportion doesn’t happen again.”

Battering the Bahamas

In the Bahamas, Joaquin maintained its leisurely pace, blasting the islands with ferocious wind, rain and surf.

The storm’s “extremely dangerous conditions” are expected to continue over portions of the Bahamas on Friday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Extensive flooding was reported, with up to 3 feet of standing water in some areas. Winds are 130 mph. Rainfall is expected to be about 12-18 inches over the central Bahamas, but some areas could see as much as 25 inches, the Hurricane Center said.

“We are closely monitoring Nassau now to see where the storm is at first light … since that is where the majority of the population is located,” said Basil Dean of the Bahamas Department of Meteorology. “Freeport, Grand Bahama, Eleuthera and other tourist areas are also being closely monitored.”

Could it still make landfall in U.S.?

Joaquin is expected to begin its trek north later in the day, and while the latest forecast map takes it out into the Atlantic, the unpredictable nature of hurricanes could still bring it back toward the East Coast.

But will it?

“We’re at the point we still need to stay aware,” Aissen said. “It could still shift.”

If it hasn’t made its move by Friday evening, she said, Joaquin will stay out at sea.