Heavy rain from Hurricane Isaias may start drenching portions of Florida Friday night before the Category 1 storm turns and makes its way up the east coast with expected landfall in North Carolina, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Isaias, declared a hurricane late Thursday night, had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph midday Friday and was centered about 295 miles southeast of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas.
“Heavy rains associated with Isaias may begin to affect South and east-central Florida beginning late Friday night, and the eastern Carolinas by early next week, potentially resulting in isolated flash and urban flooding, especially in low-lying and poorly drained areas,” the center said in an advisory.
Hurricane and Tropical Storm Watches are now in effect Friday for a lengthy stretch of Florida’s southern coastline, from Homestead to Titusville, including areas of the state hardest-hit by the coronavirus.
But before elements of the storm reach Florida, it will “produce heavy rains and potentially life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides across the Dominican Republic, northern Haiti, Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas,” the center says.
In the meantime, “interests along the entire U.S. East Coast” should closely monitor the progress of the hurricane, it adds.
Isaias is currently forecasted to pass over the southeastern Bahamas Friday, then head near the central Bahamas tonight, and move near South Florida Saturday.
On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, Isaias knocked out power, toppled trees, and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. At least 35 people were rescued from floodwaters and one person remained missing. Hundreds of thousands of people in Puerto Rico were left without power and water.
A hurricane warning was in effect for the northwestern Bahamas, including Andros Island, New Providence, Eleuthera, Abaco Islands, Berry Islands, Grand Bahama and Bimini.
Two of those islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama, were battered by Dorian, a Category 5 storm in 2019 that hovered over the area for two days and killed at least 70 people, with more than 280 reported missing. People are still living in tents on both islands, and officials said crews were trying to remove leftover debris ahead of Isaias.
Prime Minister Hubert Minnis announced late Thursday that he was relaxing a coronavirus lockdown as a result of the impending storm, but said a 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew would start Friday. Supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores could remain open as long as weather permitted.
“These are especially difficult days,” he said during an online news conference. “We need at this time the spirit of love and unity.”
Stephen Russell, director of the Bahamas’ emergency management agency, said there were no plans to evacuate, but urged those living in low-lying areas to seek shelter.
Given the pandemic, the prime minister also urged young people booking hotel rooms to stay safe from the storm and respect social distancing measures.
“Please do not engage in hurricane or COVID-19 parties,” he said. “It can be devastating.”
Isaias is expected to produce 4 to 8 inches of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.