NASSAU, BAHAMAS - The U.S. Coast Guard has located a life ring from a cargo ship that lost power and communications during Hurricane Joaquin and is now the subject of an intense search in the southeastern Bahamas.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Ryan Doss said the life ring was 120 miles northeast of Crooked Island. That's about 70 miles northeast of the last known position of the El Faro before it lost contact with authorities with 33 people on board.
Doss said the crew of a C-130 airplane spotted the life ring Saturday and a helicopter crew confirmed it was from the El Faro. It has not been retrieved.
The Coast Guard and U.S. Navy halted the search because of darkness and will resume Sunday.
The 735-foot (224-meter) El Faro had taken on water and was earlier reported to be listing at 15 degrees near Crooked Island. The vessel was traveling from Jacksonville, Florida, to San Juan, Puerto Rico, when it was disabled by the storm.
Officials said the crew — 28 Americans and five Poles — earlier reported they had been able to contain the flooding. The Coast Guard said it had covered more than 850 square miles in its search so far.
Coast Guard Capt. Mark Fedor said there were 20- to 30-foot (up to 9-meter) waves in the area, and that heavy winds could have destroyed the ship's communications equipment.
Bound for Bermuda
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Joaquin continued to be a strong Category 4 hurricane — it had weakened but was returned to that status early Saturday afternoon — as it moved northeastward toward Bermuda.
At 8 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 455 miles (730 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, moving toward the northeast at 17 mph (28 kph). Joaquin had maximum sustained winds of 145 mph (235 kph)
The Miami specialists said the forecast track indicated the eye of Joaquin should pass west of Bermuda on Sunday. But they cautioned that any deviation in Joaquin's path could bring the core of the hurricane and stronger winds closer to the island.
While spared the full fury of Joaquin, parts of the U.S. East Coast still saw record-setting rain Saturday that shut down roads, waterlogged crops and showed little sign of letting up.
Much of the drenching was centered in the Carolinas, but coastal communities as far away as New Jersey were feeling the effects of unrelenting rainfall. Rain and flood warnings remained in effect for many parts of the East Coast through Sunday.
President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in South Carolina and ordered federal aid to help state and local efforts.
Downtown Charleston was closed to incoming traffic Saturday as rain flooded roads and left some motorists stranded. At least two bridges were washed out in other parts of the state.
Damage in Bahamas
Authorities in the Bahamas were expected to need days to assess storm damage on the hundreds of islands and cays that form the archipelago.
On Friday, Joaquin destroyed houses, uprooted trees and unleashed heavy flooding as it hurled torrents of rain across the Bahamas.
There had been no reports of fatalities or injuries, said Capt. Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas National Emergency Management Agency.
Officials were investigating reports of shelters being damaged and flooded, as well as two boats with a total of five people that remained missing.