ORLANDO, Fla. – Forecasters have declared a hurricane warning for parts of the Florida coastline on Friday as Hurricane Isaias drenches the Bahamas on a track for the U.S. East Coast., all while another system appears to have formed in the Atlantic.
The latest forecast cone for Isaias has shifted back west, putting more of Central Florida inside of it.
Officials in Florida said they were closing beaches, marinas and parks in Miami-Dade County beginning Friday night. Mayor Carlos Gimenez said the county has 20 evacuation centers on standby that could be set up with COVID-19 safety measures.
A hurricane warning is in effect from Boca Raton to the Flagler/Volusia County line.
But authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Oracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian, starting Saturday evening.
As of 11 p.m. Friday, Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph and was expected to remain a hurricane for the next few days, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was centered about 135 miles south southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 15 mph.
The hurricane knocked shingles off roofs in the Bahamian island of San Salvador as it carved its way through an archipelago still recovering from Dorian’s devastation. Bahamas Power and Light Company warned it would cut power in certain areas for safety starting Friday night.
Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, they’ve been destabilized by the pandemic and the damage caused by Dorian.
“With everything not quite shored up, property not secured, home not prepared, even a Category 1 will be enough to set them back,” she said.
The Hurricane Center said heavy rains associated with the storm “may begin to affect South and east-Central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding, especially in low-lying and poorly drained areas.”
A hurricane warning was in effect for the east coast of Florida from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Brevard County Line, according to the National Hurricane Center. A hurricane watch is in effect from the Volusia-Brevard County Line to the Flagler-Volusia County Line and from south of Boca Raton to Hallendale Beach.
“Hurricane conditions are expected to reach the coast within the hurricane warning area in Florida late Saturday and Saturday night,” forecasters said. “Winds are expected to first reach tropical storm strength on Saturday, making outside preparations difficult or dangerous. Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
A storm surge watch is in effect for the east coast of Florida from Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedre Beach. A tropical storm watch is in effect from the Flagler-Volusia County Line to Ponte Vedre Beach. A tropical storm warning is in effect for Lake Okeechobee, the NHC said in its 5 p.m. advisory.
A state of emergency has been declared along Florida’s entire east coast.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said “Florida is fully prepared for this and any future storm during this hurricane season,” with stockpiles of personal protective equipment, generators, bottled water and meals ready to be distributed.
But he urged people to have seven days with of food, water and medication ready and said that state-run coronavirus testing sites in the areas where the storm could hit will be closed.
“Our sites, because they’re outdoors with tents, if it were to get 40-, 50-mile-per-hour winds, it would just collapse,” he said. “Safety is paramount for that.”
Mayor Gimenez said that social-distancing measures prompted by COVID-19 mean each person in shelters needs to have 40 square feet and no more cafeteria-style dining will be allowed.
People who are infected with the new coronavirus and need to evacuate will be isolated in classrooms separate them from the general population, he said.
In Daytona Beach and Polk County, authorities began distributing sandbags and other officials advised people to prepare three days to a week of emergency provisions at home.
A hurricane warning was also in effect for the Northwestern, Southeaster and Central Bahamas, according to the Hurricane Center.
The Bahamas was just battered last year by Dorian, a Category 5 storm that hovered over the area for two days and killed at least 70 people, with more than 280 reported missing. People are still living in tents on both islands, and officials said crews were trying to remove leftover debris ahead of Isaias.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis relaxed a coronavirus lockdown as a result of the impending storm, but imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. He said supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores would be allowed to be open as long as weather permitted.
Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas’ Emergency Management Agency, said there were no plans to evacuate people, but he urged those living in low-lying areas to seek shelter.
The Bahamas has reported more than 500 confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 14 deaths. It recently barred travelers from the U.S. following a surge in cases after it reopened to international tourism.
Given the pandemic, the prime minister urged young people to stay safe from the approaching storm to respect social distancing measures.
“Please do not engage in hurricane or COVID(-19) parties,” he said. “It can be devastating.”
This is a Puerto Rico national guardsman rescuing a young boy during flash flooding caused by the tropical event that passed over the island. This is emergency work in a pandemic. If he can wear a mask wading through flood water, we all can. Consistently— David Begnaud (@DavidBegnaud) July 30, 2020
On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, Isaias toppled trees, destroyed crops and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people were left without power and water.
Officials reported that a man died in the Dominican Republic when he was electrocuted by a fallen electrical cable.
The Puerto Rico National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters, which swept away one woman who remains missing.
Isaias was expected to produce 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Also as of 5 p.m. Friday, the National Hurricane Center began monitoring another area in the tropics. Tropical Depression 10 officially formed Friday afternoon in the far eastern Atlantic.
The system is expected to be short-lived, according to forecasters.