Hurricane Joaquin strengthened as it battered the Bahamas with torrential rain, storm surges and powerful winds on Thursday and U.S. officials raced to prepare for possible landfall early next week, three years after Superstorm Sandy devastated New York and New Jersey.Joaquin, the third hurricane of the 2015 Atlantic season, intensified into a major Category 4 storm on a scale of 1 to 5, with maximum sustained winds of 130 miles (209 km) per hour, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.U.S. energy installations in the Gulf of Mexico were unaffected by the storm. While forecasts of the storm’s trajectory were still uncertain, Joaquin was the first major tropical cyclone to potentially threaten the U.S. northeast since Sandy.Several computer models showed Joaquin approaching the coast of the Carolinas by the weekend, then losing strength as it moves offshore past Delaware and New Jersey early next week to head toward Long Island and New England.One often reliable European model indicated the storm may cut a path out to sea, but the governors of New York, Connecticut and New Jersey – where Sandy killed more than 120 people and caused some $70 billion in property damage in October 2012 – warned residents to prepare for a possible severe storm.In Washington, the White House said President Barack Obama had received updates from Homeland Security and emergency management officials about preparations for the hurricane.“This is obviously something that the president and his team are closely monitoring here and I anticipate we’ll be doing that through the weekend,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie declared a state of emergency on Thursday, adding he would consider ordering evacuations. The governors of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland also declared states of emergency.“We’re hoping for the best, but hope is not preparation nor is it a plan,” North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said in a statement.There were no immediate reports of deaths or injuries from the storm’s passage over the Bahamas. But some additional strengthening of slow-moving Joaquin was possible over the next day as it approaches parts of the central and northwest Bahamas, the Miami-based NHC said. The storm’s eye passed over uninhabited Samana Cay Thursday, moving southwest at 6 mph (9 kph) and taking aim at resorts on the smaller islands of San Salvador, Exuma and Cat Island.Joaquin’s hurricane-force winds were forecast to miss the …Read More