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Bahamas, Florida brace as new Hurricane Isaias bears down

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 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 75 mph (120 kph) Friday morning and it 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 295 miles (470 kilometers) southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 16 mph (26 kph).

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.’

 And the ‘cone of concern’ which shows areas where the storm may have an impact includes the tri-state area and New York City NBC4 reported.

Winds could begin to pick up in the city on Tuesday, but it is still too early to predict the severity of the weather or whether the storm will track away. 

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis encouraged citizens to plan ahead for the storm.

‘While we can’t be certain of the exact track of the storm and we certainly cant be sure about the intensity it will ultimately reach, we do expect to see impacts to the state of Florida even if the storm remains off our shore, which is the current forecast, but this is an evolving situation so please keep up with official updates and make sure you have a plan and have seven days’ worth of food water and medicine,’ said DeSantis, the Sun Sentinel reports.

Late Friday morning, hurricane watches went up from Boca Raton through Brevard County. It’s not expected to reach Category 2 strength by the time it reaches the state. 

The National Weather Service said that the strongest wins will be felt in Boynton Beach to Titusville, the Miami Herald reports. Potential hurricane-force winds could reach between 74mph to 110mph. 

Slightly weaker conditions are expected from Pompano Beach to Palm Bay, where winds could be from 58mph to 73mph.   

‘Due to the close approach of Isaias to the coast, a reasonable worst-case scenario at this time is for portions of coastal Palm Beach County to be impacted by sustained hurricane force wind late Saturday and Saturday night,’ the weather service said in a statement issued late Friday morning. 

‘There is also a reasonable worst case scenario for sustained high-end tropical storm force wind (58 mph or greater) elsewhere over metro and inland Palm Beach County, coastal and metro Broward County, and northeastern Miami-Dade County.’ 

However, the Weather Channel reports that it is still too early to determine the system’s future track and intensity regarding potential impact of weather to other parts of the United States. 

It is also unclear how fast Isaias will move to the East Coast. It is expected to move northward and then head northeastward as the weekend goes into next week. 

The exact time and sharpness of the turn will influence how Isaias impacts Florida and the East Coast.  

To help better understand the atmospheric steering and better get an understanding of the storm, the National Weather Service will release extra weather balloons.

Gimenez said that social-distancing measures prompted by COVID-19 mean each person 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.

‘If you are positive, we have worked with the school system so we can put them in classrooms and separate them from the general population,’ he said. ‘It’s a challenge, but these are some of the things you have to think about in the age of COVID-19 and now a hurricane.’

Gimenez also said he was concerned many people won´t have access to coronavirus testing in the coming days.

‘A lot of these testing sites are outdoors. They have tents and will cause damage. We had to put safety first,’ he said. ‘We will have thousands of tests that will not be conducted until we get these test sites up and running again.’

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.t

A hurricane watch was in effect from north of Deerfield Beach northward to the Volusia-Brevard County Line.

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.

A hurricane warning was in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, including Andros Island, New Providence, Eleuthera, Abacos Islands, Berry Islands, Grand Bahamas Island, and Bimini.

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 announced late Thursday that he was relaxing a coronavirus lockdown as a result of the impending storm, but said a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew would be implemented starting Friday. 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.’

Isaias was expected to produce 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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