Hurricane Joaquin reaches Category Four as it batters Bahamas
Hurricane Joaquin has brought heavy rains and winds to parts of the Bahamas after it was reclassified up to the second strongest type of storm.
Sustained winds of up to 210 km/h (130mph) were reported in parts of the eastern Bahamas, the US National Hurricane Centre said.
The NHC says Joaquin could affect the US East Coast by Sunday, and said it was now an "extremely dangerous" storm.
Emergency teams said there were no reports of casualties in the Bahamas.
Forecasters in the US and the Bahamas are warning that central islands, many of which are low-lying, could see a storm surge of up to 3.7m (12ft).
"We do not know the impact of 130mph on those areas," Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie said. "We know it's a horrific kind of experience."
One Bahamas resident, Shandira Forbes, said she had been in contact with her mother on the island of Acklins.
"She was calling for help because the sea was coming into her house," she told Associated Press. "People's roofs were lifting up. No one knew, so there was no preparedness, there was no meeting, there was nothing."
Images on social media showed water reaching close to the roofs of some homes. The Tribune 242 website said dozens of people were trapped in their homes in the southern Bahamas.
After being classified only as a storm early on Wednesday, Joaquin had become a Category Four hurricane - on a scale of five - by Thursday afternoon.
The NHC said the storm could strengthen again as it nears the central Bahamas, but it is likely to lose strength as it moves north.
States along the eastern US coast - many of whom have suffered heavy rains in recent days - have warned residents to take precautions.
But the NHC, while warning the path of the hurricane could change, said it was "becoming optimistic that the Carolinas and the mid-Atlantic states will avoid the direct effects from Joaquin".
In other developments:
- the governors of New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and North and South Carolina declared states of emergency
- one person was killed by flash floods in Spartanburg, South Carolina
- schools in Charleston, South Carolina, will be closed on Friday, local media reported
- Cuba has issued warnings for four eastern provinces
A White House spokesman said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) was following the progress of Joaquin and preparing in case it made landfall in the US.