Hurricane Isaias snapped trees and knocked out power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday and headed toward the Florida coast, where officials said they were closing beaches, parks, and coronavirus testing sites.
The hurricane is bearing down on places where the virus is surging, threatening to complicate efforts to contain it, and piling another burden on communities already hard-hit by other storms and sickness.
Florida authorities said they have prepared shelters, but didn’t expect to have to evacuate people.
“The most important thing we want people to do now is remain vigilant,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Officials in Florida began closing beaches, marinas, and parks in Miami-Dade County on Friday night. Mayor Carlos Gimenez 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 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hours) at 11 a.m. Saturday morning, a slight decline from earlier in the day, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to drop from 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The center of the storm is expected to move over northern Andros Island in the next hours, on to Grand Bahama Island in the northwestern Bahamas later in the day then near the east coast of Florida overnight through Sunday. It is expected to weaken slowly late Monday.
Bahamian officials said they were concerned about a Category 1 storm hitting amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“The center of COVID-19 now is in Grand Bahama,” the island’s minister, Sen. Kwasi Thompson, told government-run ZNS Bahamas. “No one wanted to see a situation where we are now facing a hurricane.”
The area was still recovering from Dorian, complicating preparations for this one.
The storm has already been destructive in the Caribbean: On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, Isaias uprooted trees, destroyed crops, and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One man died in the Dominican Republic, where more than 5,000 people were evacuated, hundreds of homes were damaged or destroyed and more than 130 communities were cut off by floodwaters. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters that swept away one woman who remained missing.
As it moves now toward the southeast coast of Florida, a hurricane warning is in effect from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Flagler county line, which lies about 150 miles (240 kilometers) north. A hurricane watch was in effect from Hallendale Beach to south of Boca Raton. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the area, and a watch means they are possible.
DeSantis said Saturday that 12 counties have adopted states of emergency, although no immediate evacuation orders have been given. He also said that hospitals are not being evacuated of coronavirus or other patients.
The governor told a morning news conference that the state is prepared with stockpiles of personal protective equipment, generators, bottled water, and meals ready to be distributed.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said each person in a shelter needed to have 40 square feet (nearly 4 square meters), and no more cafeteria-style dining would be allowed. Any evacuees infected with the new coronavirus would be isolated in classrooms separate them from the general population, Giménez said.
Kevin Shelton, the owner of Causeway Mowers in Indian Harbour Beach, Florida, said his store has been packed since Friday. Folks streamed in to buy generators, chain saws, and other provisions. On Saturday morning, Shelton and his wife served at least 25 customers an hour, which is double the business they’d normally do on a weekend.
Anderson reported from Miami. Associated Press writer Tamara Lush contributed from Indian Harbour Beach, Florida,
Isaias: hurricane watch for parts of the Florida coastline