Weakening Joaquin passes Bermuda after lashing it with rain

HAMILTON, BERMUDA: A weakening Hurricane Joaquin moved past Bermuda and farther out into the Atlantic on Monday after pounding the wealthy financial haven and tourist destination with heavy rains and winds.

All flights to the island's LF Wade International Airport were cancelled on Sunday and ferry service was closed due to rough seas. Emergency service agencies were placed on alert and there were scattered power outages by early evening.

"I think it's going to be bad, and last year I lost a lot of stuff to the storms," said retiree Susan DeSilva, whose son-in-law helped her secure her windows and doors as the storm approached.

Others were far less worried in the tiny territory accustomed to rough weather. At least one bar in the capital of Hamilton was packed 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.

After roaring across parts of the Bahamas as a major Category 4 hurricane, Joaquin lost steam as it headed north. By Monday morning, US forecasters said sustained winds had dropped to near 85 mph (140 kph). Still, the US National Hurricane Center said the island was seeing tropical storm conditions.

Hundreds of people were rescued from fast-moving floodwaters Sunday in the US state of South Carolina 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 cms) 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.

As the hurricane's eye moves past Bermuda, swells kicked up by the storm continued to affect the Bahamas and the eastern coast of the US about 600 miles (965 kilometers) away.

The US National Hurricane Center in Miami said that elevated water levels and big waves from Joaquin will affect the US mid-Atlantic region, "causing significant beach and dune erosion with moderate coastal flooding likely."

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.

Aircraft and ships searched the southeastern Bahamas for a US cargo ship with 33 people on board. The craft lost power and communications when it was caught in the strengthening hurricane and has not been heard from since Thursday.

Joaquin's center was located about 160 miles (255 kilometers) north of Bermuda, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 60 miles (95 kilometers). It was tracking north-northeast at 13 mph (20 kph), with a turn toward the northeast expected later Monday.