Hurricane Isaias ripped shingles off roofs and blew over trees as it carved its way through the Bahamas early yesterday and headed toward the Florida coast, where officials in Miami said they were closing beaches, marinas and parks.
Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez on Friday said that 20 evacuation centers were 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.
Authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian, starting yesterday evening.
Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas evacuated people on Abaco Island, who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian.
People living in the eastern end of Grand Bahama were also being moved.
Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 135kph early yesterday and some strengthening was possible later in the day, the US National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
The storm was centered about 185km south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 23kph.
Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told reporters that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, some have been destabilized by the COVID-19 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.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Florida’s east coast from Boca Raton, just north of Miami, about 241km north to the Volusia-Brevard county line.
A hurricane watch was in effect from Hallendale Beach to south of Boca Raton.
Florida Governor 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, power generators, bottled water and meals ready to be distributed.
However, he urged people to have seven days of food, water and medication on hand and said that state-run coronavirus testing sites in the areas where the storm could hit would 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.”
Gimenez said that social distancing measures prompted by COVID-19 meant each person in shelters needed to have 3.7m2 and cafeteria-style dining would not be allowed.
People who are infected with COVID-19 and need to evacuate would be isolated in classrooms separating them from the general population, he said.
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