VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Isaias was forecast to become a hurricane Monday as it neared landfall in the Carolinas after bands of heavy rain from the tropical storm lashed Florida’s east coast.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane warning from South Santee River, South Carolina, to Surf City, North Carolina, in its 5 a.m. advisory. Tropical Storm Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 70 mph and was expected to strengthen into a Category 1 hurricane, with winds of 74 mph or more.
“We are forecasting it to become a hurricane before it reaches the coast this evening,” senior hurricane specialist Daniel Brown said. “It’s forecast to produce a dangerous storm surge, of 3 to 5 feet in portions of North and South Carolina.”
Isaias — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — could bring heavy rains, too — up to 8 inches in spots as it moves up the coast, Brown said —and “all those rains could produce flash flooding across portions of eastern Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, and even in the northeast U.S.”
Forecasters said Isaias was still centered east of Jacksonville, Florida, and 280 miles (455 kilometers) south-southwest of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, but was expected to speed up Monday as it moved north.
Over the weekend, Isaias brought heavy rain and flooding to Florida as officials kept a close eye on the storm while dealing with surging cases of the coronavirus.
The storm had weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm on Saturday afternoon, and its most damaging winds remained offshore.
“Don’t be fooled by the downgrade,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned at a news conference after the storm spent hours roughing up the Bahamas. DeSantis said that with Florida entering the season’s most active time for hurricanes, residents should have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand.
Upper-level winds later sapped much of the storm’s strength, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center in Miami.
“We were expecting a hurricane to develop and it didn’t,” Stewart said Sunday. “It’s a tale of two storms. If you live on the west side of the storm, you didn’t get much. If you live east of the storm, there’s a lot of nasty weather there.”
Isaias caused destruction and two deaths as it uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. One man died in the Dominican Republic. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floods that swept away one woman, whose body was recovered Saturday.
Isaias then snapped trees and knocked out power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday. Officials in the Bahamas opened shelters for people in Abaco island to help those who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people in September 2019.
Authorities closed Florida beaches, parks and virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn’t blow away. Officials also adapted their shelter policies to the pandemic, providing spaces where people could stay safely apart from each other to prevent the spread of the virus.
In Palm Beach County, about 150 people were in shelters, and they were wearing masks, said emergency management spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda. The county has a voluntary evacuation order for those living in mobile or manufactured homes, or those who feel their home can’t withstand winds.
In Indian River County, north of West Palm Beach, Florida, emergency shelters were clearing out Sunday after Isaias was downgraded to a tropical storm.
Officials told TCPalm newspapers that 38 people registered at three schools used as shelters. Those areas now must be cleaned to ensure no traces of the coronavirus remain as teachers and staff report Monday to prepare for the upcoming school year.
No one checked in with COVID-19 symptoms. Temperature checks were done at the door, officials said, and isolation rooms were designated in case anyone came in with symptoms.
The storm did not affect the successful return of two astronauts aboard the SpaceX Dragon capsule, which splashed down into calm waters in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola. Test pilots Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode the capsule back to Earth less than a day after departing the International Space Station and two months after blasting off from Florida.
By WILFREDO LEE and DÁNICA COTO Associated Press
Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg, Cody Jackson in Palm Beach County, Florida, and Julie Walker in New York contributed.