Forecasters declared a hurricane warning for parts of the Florida coastline on Friday, as Hurricane Isaias drenched the Bahamas on a track for the U.S. East Coast. A hurricane watch, which is a less severe prediction, was declared in other parts of the state.
The hurricane warning extends from Boca Raton to the Volusia/Brevard County Line on the state's east coast, the National Hurricane Center said. Hurricane warnings are also in effect for parts of the Bahamas. There's a hurricane watch in effect from south of Boca Raton to Hallendale Beach, and a storm surge watch from Jupiter Inlet to Ponte Vedra Beach.
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 withsafety measures. "We still don't think there is a need to open shelters for this storm but they are ready," he said.
On Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released video from an aircraft flying near the eye of the hurricane.
Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph late Friday night and was expected to remain a hurricane for the next few days, according to the hurricane center. As of 11 p.m. ET, it was centered about 135 miles south-southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and was moving northwest at 15 mph.
"The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline," the hurricane center warned. The NHC said water levels could rise from 2-4 feet in some parts of Florida and 1-3 feet in others, and said a 3-5 foot rise could occur in parts of the Bahamas.
The hurricane knocked shingles off roofs in the Bahamian island of San Salvador as it carved its way through an archipelago still recovering from last year's devastating
Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, they've been destabilized by the 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.
Governor Ron DeSantis said "Florida is 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 with of food, water and medication ready and said that state-run coronavirus testing sites in the areas where the storm could hit will 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."
Mayor Gimenez said that social-distancing measures prompted by COVID-19 mean each person needs to have 40 square feet of space 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.
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.
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 parties," he said. "It can be devastating."