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Downgraded Isaias churns along Florida's Atlantic coast, bringing heavy rains

Bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida's east coast Sunday while officials dealing with surging cases of the coronavirus kept a close watch on the weakened tropical storm. Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon.

Hurricane watch in effect for parts of North Carolina and South Carolina

People gather to watch the strong waves on the beach as palm trees sway in the wind on Sunday in Vero Beach, Fla. Isaias weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm late Saturday afternoon, but it was still expected to bring heavy rain and flooding as it barrels toward Florida. (Wilfredo Lee/The Associated Press)

Bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida's east coast on Sunday while officials dealing with surging cases of the coronavirus kept a close watch on the weakened tropical storm.

Isaias was downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon, but it was still threatening to bring heavy rain and flooding as it crawled just off Florida's Atlantic coast.

"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.

Upper-level winds took much of the strength out of Isaias, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The storm also slowed down considerably.

"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."

Florida is on the west side of Isaias.

By 8 p.m. ET, the storm was about 90 kilometres east-southeast of Cape Canaveral, Fla., heading north-northwestward with top sustained winds of 110 km/h, the National Hurricane Center said.

After passing the Florida coast overnight, the storm is expected to keep offshore while grazing Georgia and southern South Carolina before heading inland over eastern South Carolina or southern North Carolina on Monday night.

"A turn toward the north and north-northeast along with an increase in forward speed is anticipated on Monday and Tuesday," said the NHC, which issued a hurricane watch for parts of South and North Carolina.

As the storm slowly moved north along the coast, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said earlier on Sunday that Isaias had turned more inland, increasing the threat of heavy rain, flash flooding and tornadoes in the eastern part of the state.

"Right now, we expect the heaviest rain along the I-95 corridor with as much as seven inches in some places," Cooper told a news conference.

Waves driven by tropical storm Isaias crash over the jetty on the north side of the Palm Beach Inlet in Palm Beach Shores on Sunday. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post via The Associated Press)

Authorities in Florida had closed beaches, parks and COVID-19 testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn't blow away. DeSantis said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week's supply of water, food and medicine on hand.

Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while also safely physically distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

Isaias put another burden on communities already hit by other storms and sickness.

In Palm Beach County, about 150 people were in shelters, said emergency management spokesperson 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.

'We don't anticipate many more evacuations'

"We don't anticipate many more evacuations," she said, adding that the evacuees are physically distant from each other and are wearing masks due to the virus.

In Indian River County, north of West Palm Beach, Fla., emergency shelters were clearing out Sunday after Isaias was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Kent Ahern and his dog Blanco watch waves churned up by tropical storm Isaias in Vero Beach, Fla., on Sunday. (Wilfredo Lee/The Associated Press)

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, Fla. 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.

Isaias has already caused destruction in the Caribbean: On Thursday, before it became a hurricane, it uprooted trees, destroyed crops and homes and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

WATCH | Isaias hits Puerto Rico:

Widespread damage reported as storm gains hurricane strength on its way to U.S. East Coast. 1:01

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 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.

With files from CBC News

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