SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Forecasters declared a hurricane warning for parts of the Florida coast 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 had 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.
But authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Oracoke Island, which was slammed by last year's Hurricane Dorian, starting Saturday evening. Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas evacuated people in Abaco who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian as well as people living in the eastern end of Grand Bahama.
Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph Friday night and was expected to strengthen in the coming hours, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. The storm was centered about 175 miles south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 15 mph.
The hurricane knocked shingles off roofs and tumbled trees as it carved its way through an archipelago still recovering from Dorian's devastation. Bahamas Power and Light Co. cut off power in certain areas for safety.
Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, some have been destabilized by the coronavirus 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 from Boca Raton, just north of Miami, about 150 miles north to the Volusia/Brevard County Line. A hurricane watch was in effect from the Volusia/Brevard County Line to the Flagler/Volusia County Line and from south of Boca Raton to Hallendale Beach.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said that the state was “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.”
Miami's mayor said that social-distancing measures prompted by COVID-19 meant each person in shelters needed to have 40 square feet and no more cafeteria-style dining would 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, Giménez said.
In Daytona Beach and Polk County, authorities began distributing sandbags and other officials advised people to have emergency provisions at home sufficient for three to seven days.