Forecasters declared a hurricane watch for parts of the Florida coastline on Friday, as Hurricane Isaias drenched areas of the Bahamas devastated by Dorian last year, on track for the US east coast.
Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 75mph and was expected to remain a hurricane for a few days, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami.
It was centered about 245 miles south-east of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving north-west at 16mph. The storm was expected to produce 4-8in of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
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.
Abaco and Grand Bahama were battered last year by Dorian, a category 5 storm that hovered for two days and killed at least 70 people, with more than 280 missing. People are still living in tents on both islands, and officials said crews were trying to remove leftover debris.
Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, said that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, they have been destabilized by Dorian and the coronavirus pandemic.
“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 Bahamas has reported more than 500 confirmed Covid-19 cases and at least 14 deaths. It has barred travelers from the US. Given the pandemic, the prime minister urged young people to stay safe and respect social distancing measures.
“Please do not engage in hurricane or Covid parties,” Hubert Minnis said. “It can be devastating.”
Minnis relaxed a coronavirus lockdown but imposed a 10pm-to-5am curfew. He said supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores would be allowed to open if weather permitted. Bahamas Power and Light Company warned it would cut power in certain areas for safety, starting on Friday night.
Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas’ Emergency Management Agency, said there were no plans to evacuate but urged those living in low-lying areas to seek shelter.
On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, Isaias toppled trees, destroyed crops and caused flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands 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. One woman remained missing.
Officials in Florida said beaches, marinas and parks in Miami-Dade county would close, beginning on Friday night. The mayor, Carlos Giménez, said the county had 20 evacuation centers 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.
The NHC said heavy rains “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 to the Volusia-Brevard county line.
Florida’s governor, 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. But he urged people to have seven days of food, water and medication ready.
State-run coronavirus testing sites will be closed, he said, “because they’re outdoors with tents, if it were to get 40-, 50-mile-per-hour winds, it would just collapse. Safety is paramount for that.”
Giménez said social-distancing measures prompted by Covid-19 mean each person in shelters needs 40 sq ft. People who are infected would be isolated, he said.
In Daytona Beach and Polk county, authorities began distributing sandbags and officials advised people to prepare three days to a week of emergency provisions.
Authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Oracoke Island, which was slammed by Hurricane Dorian, starting on Saturday evening.