Isaias Live Updates: Storm Weakens as It Churns Toward Florida After Hitting Bahamas  08/02/2020 05:03:31 
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Gov. Ron DeSantis said he had issued a state of emergency for counties on Floridas east coast, and that President Trump approved FEMA assistance for the state.CreditCredit...Saul Martinez for The New York Times

After battering the Bahamas and raking parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with hurricane strength wind and rain, Isaias was downgraded Saturday evening to a tropical storm.

Still, it continued its slow churn toward Floridas coastline, and state officials said the storm would likely regain its strength as the evening progressed.

Dont be fooled by the downgrade, warned Gov. Ron DeSantis at a news conference.

Floridians spent Saturday preparing for wind gusts up to 80 miles per hour and dangerous coastal surf. And forecasters said they expected Isaias to again become a Category 1 hurricane before scraping Floridas coast.

Isaiass projected path shifted slightly eastward, forecasters said, and was expected to possibly make landfall near Palm Beach, Jacksonville and other coastal areas in the storms possible path.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency offered federal disaster assistance to the state on Saturday, a move approved by President Trump, the agency announced in a statement.

Miami is no longer in the cone that signals the storm's possible paths, but the National Weather Service warned that the region could still see floods from heavy rain and damage from strong winds.

Up the coast, officials in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina were closely monitoring the storm, which is expected to move north and could scrape the coasts of any of those states.

Like Florida, those three states have seen a dramatic rise in new reported cases of the coronavirus since mid-June, and more recently, health officials have warned that their health-care systems could be strained beyond capacity with the flood of new patients. Emergency management officials have been drawing up new plans to deal with people fleeing amid the virus, including placing people in hotel rooms instead of congregate shelters like basketball gyms.

Even so, Keith Acree, a North Carolina emergency management spokesman, said the state was urging coastal residents to make plans to stay with family or friends further inland. A shelter this year is not really where you want to be this year during a pandemic, he said.

As of 2 a.m. Sunday, the tropical storm was about 70 miles southeast of Fort Lauderdale and 90 miles southeast of West Palm Beach, moving toward the coast at about 8 miles per hour. Its winds were swirling at about 70 m.p.h., just under the 74 m.p.h. threshold that would make it a Category 1 hurricane.

In Florida, a hurricane warning remains in effect from Boca Raton to the northern edge of Volusia County, which includes Daytona Beach. A tropical storm warning extends from the northern border of Volusia County to the coast just southeast of Jacksonville. And a tropical storm watch reaches about 40 miles north of Charleston, S.C.

Weather forecasters said dangerous storm surges up to four feet high in some parts of Florida were possible.

Flooding caused by Isaias led to at least one death in Puerto Rico, where a woman drowned in the municipality of Rincn, in the northwest of the island, the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety announced Saturday in a statement. The woman had gone missing on Thursday, the authorities said.

The storm is expected to weaken and be off the coast of Georgia on Monday morning, and off the coast of South Carolina by Monday evening.

Shelters began opening in Palm Beach County.

ImageA pet shelter in preparation for Hurricane Isaias in Lake Worth, Fla., on Saturday.
A pet shelter in preparation for Hurricane Isaias in Lake Worth, Fla., on Saturday.Credit...Saul Martinez for The New York Times

Palm Beach County opened four general population centers at one middle school and three high schools Saturday morning as Isaias continued to stretch up the Atlantic Coast. The shelters are available only to residents who live in mobile homes or sub-standard housing, the county said.

As of Saturday afternoon, there were 150 people at the shelters, officials said.

Individuals older than 2 will be required to wear face coverings, and temperature screenings will be conducted for all residents who want to enter the shelters. The county noted that social distancing protocols would be in effect, and families staying at the shelters would be kept further apart from each other. The county also said it would open one pet friendly shelter for animals.

Still, county officials on Saturday urged residents to stay home and avoid congregating in settings like shelters, if possible. For those living in less stable housing, such as mobile homes, officials recommended sheltering with a family member or friend who resides in a sturdy home, or relocating to a hotel.

Bill Johnson, the emergency management director for Palm Beach County, said on Saturday that storm conditions would begin impacting the county in the evening. The county has issued a voluntary evacuation order for residents who live in evacuation Zone A, which includes mobile and manufactured homes.

There is Covid in every aspect of your hurricane preparedness needs, Mr. Johnson said at a news conference on Friday. Shelters should be considered your last resort.

Lawmakers passed regulations after air-conditioners failed at one home in 2017, leading to heat-related deaths. They mandated that nursing homes install backup generators in case of severe weather.

But this May, the state issued 95 variances  passes that allow facilities to operate despite noncompliance  to nursing homes that had not met the emergency requirements, according to The Miami Herald.

The former ombudsman, Brian Lee, who now runs Families for Better Care, an advocacy group for nursing home and elder-care residents, said he doubted state officials who said the nursing homes were prepared.

I cant imagine that these facilities are prepped and ready to handle a pandemic and a hurricane simultaneously, Mr. Lee said. They are going to be over their heads and under water. It is a total recipe for disaster.

Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for the Florida Health Care Association, which lobbies for nursing homes, said that not every nursing home that applied for a variance was without a generator. Some facilities applied for other reasons, including that they had not been able to perform inspections because of the coronavirus, she said.

According to records from Floridas Agency for Health Care Administration, some nursing homes that were approved for variances were without generators as recently as March, and were allowed to operate without generators until June 1.

An agency spokesman said in an email that all nursing homes and assisted living facilities have generators on site.

Some facilities plan to shelter in place rather than evacuate residents. Mr. Lee said he was concerned that social distancing would be impossible if dozens of residents were gathered in a common space.

You get 120 residents and their caregivers in a large room in the middle of a pandemic  social distancing is out the window, Mr. Lee said. This pandemic is really a threat to the residents in these facilities, not just from a health care perspective, but for natural disasters as well.

Florida is closing state-run coronavirus testing sites in the storms path.

A coronavirus testing center at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami was closed because of the threat of Hurricane Isaias.Credit...Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald, via Associated Press

Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Friday that state-run coronavirus testing sites, which are mostly housed under tents at outdoor venues, will be closed if they are within Isaiass anticipated path.

Many testing sites would be unsafe for lab personnel during the storms wind and rain, Mr. DeSantis said during a news conference on Friday. Labs run by private companies, hospitals and local county health departments will not be affected by the states closure.

The governor, a Republican, had planned to close all of the states testing sites from Friday to Wednesday. But the Division of Emergency Management eventually said it would keep testing sites open in counties that should be unaffected.

In Miami-Dade County, the center of Floridas coronavirus outbreak, Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered the county-run sites to close from Friday until at least Monday.

The county has recorded more than 20,000 cases in the past seven days.

We have thousands of tests that will not be conducted until we get these test sites up and running again, Mr. Gimenez said during a news conference on Friday. We have to put safety first.

On Thursday, Florida recorded 253 deaths, the states most deaths in a single day. While the number of daily new cases has declined in the second half of July, the number of daily deaths has trended upward.

Forecasters predicted an active hurricane season, and it seems they were right.

Because of warm ocean temperatures and other conditions this year, weather experts said in May that there would probably be more than the average of 12 named storms.

The season, which runs from June 1 to November 30, is only one-third over, and Isaias is already its ninth named storm, which requires maximum sustained winds above 38 miles per hour.

June and July are usually quiet, which means the 2020 season could approach the record of 27 named storms set in 2005  the only time the National Hurricane Center had to use Greek letters for some names.

Two factors combine to make the August to October period more active. Ocean warmth, which provides the energy that fuels tropical storms and hurricanes, reaches its peak in late summer. And differential winds that can weaken storms by disrupting their rotating, or cyclonic, structure are at their quietest.

Of the nine storms so far, seven were tropical storms, with wind speeds below 74 miles an hour. The first hurricane, Hanna, which struck South Texas last week, was a Category 1 storm, with winds below 96 m.p.h. and so far Isaiass strength is about the same.

So while the season is busy, it remains to be seen whether another of the predictions by the experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are borne out. They forecast that three to six storms this season would be major hurricanes, with sustained winds of 111 m.p.h. or higher.

Astronauts avoided delay return from the International Space Station and are headed home.

The SpaceX Crew Dragon is scheduled to splash down near Florida on Sunday, though Hurricane Isaias could change those plans.

Forecasted path of Hurricane Isaias

Seven possible

splashdown sites


Forecasted path of Hurricane Isaias

Seven possible

splashdown sites


Forecasted path of Hurricane Isaias

Seven possible

splashdown sites


By The New York Times | Sources: NASA, National Hurricane Center, Mapbox, OpenStreetMap

Though Isaias threatened to delay the return trip of two Florida-bound astronauts who have been aboard the International Space Station since June, they were able to undock and begin their long journey home.

The astronauts, Robert L. Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley, blasted off to the space station in May in the Crew Dragon capsule built and operated by SpaceX, the rocket company started by Elon Musk. They are scheduled to splash down on Sunday afternoon.

NASA and SpaceX have seven potential sites in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico where the capsule and its passengers can splash down. But the track of Isaias ruled out the three in the Atlantic.

At the splashdown site, winds must be less than 10 miles per hour, and there are additional constraints on waves and rain. In addition, helicopters that take part in the recovery of the capsule must be able to fly and land safely.

The spacecraft undocked from the space station at about 7:35 p.m. on Saturday and, if the weather conditions remain favorable, it is scheduled to splash down in the Gulf of Mexico off Pensacola, Fla., at 2:41 p.m. on Sunday, NASA announced.

Reporting was contributed by Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs, Kenneth Chang, Richard Fausset, Henry Fountain, Patricia Mazzei, Giulia McDonnell Nieto del Rio,Frances Robles and Will Wright.

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