Hurricane Isaias hits Bahamas, virus-hit Florida gears up


SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO – Hurricane Isaias smashed trees and cut power as it blew through the Bahamas on Saturday and headed for the coast of Florida, where officials said they were closing beaches , parks and coronavirus testing sites. The hurricane is hitting places where the virus is increasing, threatening to complicate efforts to contain it and weighing down communities already hard hit by other storms and disease.

Authorities in Florida said they had prepared shelters, but did not expect to have to evacuate people.

“The most important thing we want people to do now is stay alert,” Governor Ron DeSantis said.

Authorities in North Carolina have ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island, which was criticized by Hurricane Dorian last year, starting on Saturday evening. Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas have evicted people from Abaco Island who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people.

Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 80 miles per hour (130 kilometers per hour) by 11 a.m. Saturday morning, a slight drop from the start of the day, the US National Hurricane Center said. The storm is expected to bring 10 to 20 centimeters of rain over the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The center of the storm is expected to shift to northern Andros Island in the next few hours, to Grand Bahama Island in the northwestern Bahamas later today, and then near the east coast of Florida overnight through Sunday. It is expected to slowly weaken late Monday.

Bahamian officials have expressed concern over a Category 1 storm hitting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“The center of COVID-19 is now in Grand Bahama,” Island Minister Senator Kwasi Thompson told ZNS Bahamas, a government company. “No one wanted to see a situation where we are now facing a hurricane. ”

Bahamian Prime Minister Hubert Minnis relaxed the coronavirus lockdown following the storm, but imposed a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew. He said supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores would be open as long as the weather permitted.

The Bahamas has reported more than 570 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 14 deaths. It recently banned travelers from the United States after an increase in the number of cases after it reopened to international tourism.

Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that islanders were still lining up for gas on Saturday before the storm.

The area was still recovering from Dorian, making it difficult for Dorian to prepare.

“People are doing their best to prepare, but many businesses still haven’t fully repaired their roofs or structures,” she said. “Even a lower level storm could really push them back. ”

The storm has already been destructive in the Caribbean: Thursday, when still a tropical storm, Isaias uprooted trees, destroyed crops and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. A 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 flood waters. In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from the floodwaters that took a woman who was still missing.

As it now moves toward the southeast coast of Florida, a hurricane warning is in effect from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Flagler County line, which is approximately 240 kilometers to the north. A hurricane watch was in effect for Hallendale Beach south of Boca Raton. A hurricane warning means hurricane conditions are expected somewhere in the area, and a watch means they are possible.

Florida has been a coronavirus hotspot in the United States in recent weeks, and the storm is disrupting some efforts to control the virus. State-run test sites are closing in areas where the storm could strike because the sites are outdoor tents, which could tip over in high winds.

DeSantis, the governor, said on Saturday that 12 counties had adopted a state of emergency, although no immediate evacuation orders were given. He also said hospitals were not being evacuated for coronavirus or other patients.

The Republican governor told a morning press conference that the state was prepared to have stocks of personal protective equipment, generators, bottled water and meals ready for distribution.

The pandemic has forced officials to grapple with social distancing rules alongside disaster response.

For example, in Marion County, Florida, officials say people would receive facial protection if they had to go to shelters. Facilities will have disinfectants and personal protective equipment if necessary, although they prefer that people bring their own PPE.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said each person in a shelter must have 40 square feet (almost 4 square meters) and cafeteria-style meals would no longer be allowed. All evacuees infected with the new coronavirus would be isolated in classrooms separating them from the general population, Gimenez said.

Kevin Shelton, the owner of Causeway Mowers in Indian Harbor Beach, Fla., Said his store has been full since Friday. People flocked to buy generators, chainsaws and other supplies. On Saturday morning, Shelton and his wife served at least 25 customers an hour, which is double the activity they would normally do on weekends.

“They don’t say much about Covid, they just make sure they have the necessary supplies,” he said. “We have been in the region for almost 50 years. We watch every storm. Whenever we have a storm, we take it seriously. She could change in that direction at any time. ”


Anderson reported from Miami. Associated Press writer Tamara Lush contributed from Indian Harbor Beach, Florida,


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