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Hurricane Joaquin could hit Northeast as early as next week, projections show

This NOAA satellite image taken Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015 at 12:45 AM EDT shows Tropical Storm Joaquin moving into the Bahama Islands with maximum sustained winds of seventy miles per hour. This system is expected to quickly become a hurricane as it progresses further towards the eastern seaboard of the United States. A large precipitation shield is also covering New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Ohio River Valley. This activity is associated with a frontal boundary that extends from Newfoundland and Labrador into the Southern Plains.  (Weather Underground via AP)

This NOAA satellite image taken Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015 at 12:45 AM EDT shows Tropical Storm Joaquin moving into the Bahama Islands with maximum sustained winds of seventy miles per hour. This system is expected to quickly become a hurricane as it progresses further towards the eastern seaboard of the United States. A large precipitation shield is also covering New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Ohio River Valley. This activity is associated with a frontal boundary that extends from Newfoundland and Labrador into the Southern Plains. (Weather Underground via AP)

The Bahamas was bracing Wednesday for a brush with Hurricane Joaquin, which was on a projected track that would take it near the East Coast of the U.S. early next week.

The hurricane was expected to pass near the islands of San Salvador, Cat Island, Eleuthera and Rum Cay late Thursday and early Friday, close enough that it could bring tropical-storm-force winds, coastal flooding and 5-10 inches (13-25 centimeters) of rain, said Geoffrey Greene, a senior forecaster with the Bahamas Meteorology Department.

"We would be very concerned about them," Greene said of the small, lightly populated islands in the far east of the Bahamas.

The center of the storm was expected to be closest to land in the Bahamas about 2 p.m. Thursday, passing east of San Salvador, Greene said.

Forecasters expected the storm to drop about 3-5 inches (8-13 centimeters) in the central Bahamas, including Long Island and Exuma. The effects are projected to be minimal on New Providence, which includes the capital of Nassau, with scattered showers and thunderstorms.

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The U.S. National Hurricane Center long-term forecast showed the storm could near the U.S. East Coast above North Carolina early next week, but it said the complexity of the weather environment means "it is too soon to say what impacts, if any, Joaquin will have on the United States."

Joaquin strengthened to a hurricane Wednesday morning, with maximum sustained winds near 75 mph (120 kph). The Hurricane Center says additional strengthening is expected over the next two days.

The center of the storm early Wednesday was about 245 miles (395 kilometers) east-northeast of the central Bahamas and moving toward the southwest at 6 mph (9kmh).