SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) - Forecasters declared a hurricane watch for parts of the Florida coastline on Friday as Hurricane Isaias drenched the Bahamas on a track for the U.S. East Coast.
Officials in Florida said they were closing beaches, marinas and parks in Miami-Dade County beginning Friday night. Mayor Carlos Giménez said the county has 20 evacuation centers on standby that could be set up with COVID-19 safety measures.
“We still don’t think there is a need to open shelters for this storm, but they are ready,” he said.
Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) Friday afternoon 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 245 miles (395 kilometers) southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).
The hurricane knocked shingles off roofs in the Bahamian island of San Salvador as it carved its way through an archipelago still recovering from last year's devastating Hurricane Dorian. The 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 watch was in effect from north of Deerfield Beach northward to the Volusia-Brevard County Line.
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.
A man and a child look at the open flood gates of the Carraizo dam after heavy rain from Tropical Storm Isaias overflowed the reservoir in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico on July 30, 2020. (Photo by RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images)
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 Giménez 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 in effect for Andros Island, New Providence,Eleuthera, Abacos Islands, Berry Islands, Grand Bahama, Bimini, Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, the Inaguas, Mayaguana, Ragged Islands, Cat Island, the Exumas, Long Island, Rum Cay, and San Salvador.
Two of those islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama, were battered 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.”
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.
Adriana Gomez LIcon reported from Miami