NASSAU, Bahamas – Hurricane Noel, the deadliest storm to hit the Atlantic this year, paralleled the U.S. coast on Friday, losing strength as it headed north towards Nova Scotia.
Noel slammed the Caribbean earlier this week with heavy rains that caused flooding and mudslides, leaving 118 dead, officials said.
After drenching the Bahamas and Cuba on Thursday, the Category 1 hurricane's sustained winds were at 80 mph on Friday and its center was about 425 miles south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. Noel is moving to the north-northeast at about 17 mph, but was expected to pick up speed.
Jack Beven, a hurricane specialist at the center, said Friday that "we don't expect the center to cross the U.S. coast. The track would take the center of the system over Nova Scotia."
But Beven also noted that the storm "is going to increase rather significantly in size" and that its effects could be felt in the U.S. Forecasters say 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall in North Carolina's Outer Banks, while isolated areas of New England might see 6 inches.
On Thursday, muddy rain-swollen waters overflowed a dam in Cuba, washing into hundreds of homes, over highways and knocking out electricity and telephone service. Dozens of small communities were cut off.
Cuban soldiers went door-to-door in low-lying areas and evacuated about 24,000 people, according to state radio and television reports. At least 2,000 homes were damaged by flood waters, but there was no official word of deaths.
In Ciego de Avila province in central Cuba, flooding wiped out nearly 2,000 tons of corn, potato, banana, cucumber and tomato harvests, said Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, a vice president.
The storm brought a record 15 inches of rain to the Bahamas, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said. Flooding killed at least one man in the Bahamas and forced the evacuation of almost 400 people. Ingraham said the majority of the evacuees were from the northeast Bahamian island of Abaco.
Residents of Andros Island, one of the least-developed in the Bahamas, hunkered down as Noel's winds howled and rain pelted windowpanes.
"The walls were rattling, but we rode it out pretty well," said Angela Newton, who was waiting Thursday for the power to come back on.
Rescuers in Dominican Republic took off in helicopters and boats to reach isolated residents for the first time in three days. Hundreds of volunteers joined Dominican civil defense forces to help stranded residents, as rescue teams left at dawn Thursday — many in boats loaned by private owners.
More than three days of heavy rain caused an estimated $30 million in damages to the Dominican Republic's rice, plantain and cacao plantations, said Minister of Economy Juan Temistocles Montas. Government officials will request loans from the Inter-American Development Bank to help with the recovery.
Rescuers in Hispaniola, the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti, found a rising toll of death and damage: at least 73 dead in the Dominican Republic and 43 in Haiti, where the majority of bodies were found in and around the capital of Port-au-Prince. One person was killed in Jamaica.