Hurricane Isaias gained momentum Saturday, swirling slowly toward Florida after hammering the Bahamas before dawn.
Strong winds and heavy rain uprooted trees and ripped off shingles in an area that rings Nassau before heading back out to water for a 200-mile trek to Miami, and a possible march up the East Coast to New York.
Forecasters at Miami’s National Hurricane Center estimated Isaias would make landfall late Saturday or in the wee hours of Sunday near Boca Raton, about 50 miles from the Magic City, as a Category 2 storm.
In Miami, Mayor Carlos Giménez closed beaches and marinas, and put nearly two dozen evacuation centers on standby. The centers could be configured to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, officials said. Florida is nearing California’s record number of 500,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with more than 470,000. Nearly a quarter of those cases are in Miami-Dade.
The shelters would give every person roughly 40 square feet of space and would not have cafeteria dining — to abide by social distancing measures.
“We still don’t think there is a need to open shelters for this storm, but they are ready,” Giménez told the Associated Press.
Still, Gov. Ron DeSantis advised Floridians to have enough food, water and medication for seven days and warned the state’s coronavirus testing sites would close where the storm hits.
“Our sites, because they’re outdoors with tents, if it were to get 40-, 50-mile-per-hour winds, it would just collapse,” DeSantis told reporters. “Safety is paramount for that.”
Flash flooding from the hurricane’s heavy rains pose the greatest threat, forecasters said. Up to 8 inches drenched the Bahamas and south and isolated parts of east-central and south Florida could see up to 6 inches.
Early Saturday, North Carolina jumped into action — advising residents and vacationers alike to come inland before evening, when access from the Outer Banks would be closed.
Forecasters put much of the East Coast on alert through the early part of the week, including New York, but capped the rainfall amounts for most areas at roughly 4 inches. New York has emergency response assets in place — just in case.