SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Isaias ripped shingles off roofs and blew over trees as it carved its way through the Bahamas early Saturday and headed toward the Florida coast, where officials in Miami said they were closing beaches, marinas and parks.
Miami Mayor Carlos Giménez said Friday 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 Oracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian, starting Saturday 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 80 mph late Friday and was expected to strengthen some into Saturday, the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said. The storm was centered about 135 miles south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 15 mph.
Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, some have been destabilized by the coronavirus 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 150 miles north to the Volusia-Brevard county line. A hurricane watch was in effect from the Volusia-Brevard line to the Flagler-Volusia line and from south of Boca Raton to Hallendale Beach.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the state was “fully prepared for this and any future storm during this hurricane season,” with stockpiles of personal protective equipment, generators, bottled water and meals ready to be distributed.
But he urged people to have seven days of food, water and medication on hand and said 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.”
Miami’s mayor said that social-distancing measures prompted by COVID-19 meant each person in shelters needed to have 40 square feet. People who are infected with the new coronavirus and need to evacuate will be isolated in classrooms separate them from the general population, Giménez said.