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Tropical Storm Isaias, Grazing Florida, Takes Aim at Carolinas

2020-08-03 00:14:53

ATLANTA — Tropical Storm Isaias buffeted Florida’s eastern edge on Sunday with more heavy rainfall and powerful winds as it skirted the Atlantic Coast, leaving many people bracing for the threat of flash floods, storm surges and even tornadoes as the storm made its way north.

The storm failed to deliver the punch in Florida that state officials had feared. But that has not been enough to allay the concerns of officials and residents in its path.

“It’s a wait-and-see game,” said Jay Slevin, the manager of a pizzeria about a mile from the shore in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where the center of the storm appeared to be heading.

Isaias, the ninth named storm in what has become a busy hurricane season, has come at a time when many people in the Southeast are already beleaguered by the coronavirus outbreak. Officials in the region are juggling the response to a storm with a pandemic, and business owners are wary of being dealt yet another crippling blow.

Isaias, which is written as Isaías in Spanish and pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs, clobbered the Bahamas with hurricane conditions over the weekend after hitting parts of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

It was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday evening when its sustained winds slipped below 74 m.p.h.; they were about 65 m.p.h. most of Sunday but picked up again to 70 m.p.h. late in the afternoon. Forecasters said some minor fluctuations in the strength of the storm were possible over the next few days, and they posted hurricane watches for areas in its immediate path and tropical storm watches all the way to Rhode Island.

The storm, which has largely run parallel to the Florida coast since leaving the Bahamas, is expected to give the Georgia coast only a glancing blow but to strike the Carolinas more directly.

After pummeling the Bahamas for the better part of the weekend, the storm blew away on Sunday morning, leaving parts of low-lying Grand Bahama soaked with more than a foot of rain and other islands in the archipelago with minor flooding, downed trees and power outages.

No storm-related deaths were reported in the country, which remains haunted by the devastation caused last year by Hurricane Dorian. That storm killed at least 74 people. Many storm victims are still living in tents and damaged homes.

The coronavirus pandemic has made rebuilding more difficult and weakened the country’s tourism-dependent economy, leaving the Bahamas particularly vulnerable this hurricane season.

Tropical Storm Isaias’s path now includes vacation destinations in the Carolinas that are usually popular with tourists at this time of year — but the coronavirus outbreak has left them struggling.

The Two Meeting Street Inn, a waterfront bed-and-breakfast in Charleston, S.C., closed in March because of the pandemic. It was planning to reopen on Aug. 15, but that might now be delayed until September. “It’s been devastating for us,” said Julie Spell Roberts, whose family has owned and operated the inn since 1946.

In preparation for the storm, her family has removed furniture from the porch and cleared the property of anything that might break a window or damage the inn — measures that Ms. Spell Roberts called “Stage 1.”

“It can change in a minute,” she said of the weather. “What we have learned over time is that you’re foolish if you don’t think that Mother Nature is a formidable foe, because she is.”

Myrtle Beach is preparing for a “lower to moderate threat,” said Steve Pfaff, a National Weather Service meteorologist. Sustained winds are expected to be around 50 to 60 miles an hour, with gusts of up to 70.

Those wind speeds can knock down trees, cause minor structural damage and litter roads with debris. Rainfall will range from four to six inches in most areas, with a few areas getting up to eight inches, which could lead to flash flooding. Myrtle Beach will probably see the brunt of the storm on Monday night, when the rain will increase and the risk of flash floods will be greatest. There could also be a storm surge of two to four feet, and a possibility of tornadoes.

Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina said on Friday that he did not expect a need for an emergency declaration or mandatory evacuations.

“It looks like it will not be necessary — we certainly hope not,” Mr. McMaster, a Republican, said at a briefing. “We’re hoping this storm will not hit us hard, if at all.”

But Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina, where the storm is expected to arrive by Tuesday, has declared a state of emergency, with forecasters predicting up to six inches of rain in some areas. Flash flood warnings were in effect in some areas on Sunday, and some islands in the vulnerable Outer Banks were under mandatory evacuation orders.

“The storm continued its march toward North Carolina overnight,” Mr. Cooper, a Democrat, said in a briefing on Sunday. “We’re asking North Carolinians in the storm’s path to make sure they are prepared.”

The residents of inland counties saw flooding inundate streets in 2016 during Hurricane Matthew and in 2018 during Hurricane Florence. The past few years of inclement weather have been especially brutal for Carolinians.

In Palm Beach County, Fla., the authorities said they had braced for hurricane-force winds, but the storm caused only limited damage, including some power outages and fallen trees.

“I think we can all agree, we’ve all been very fortunate, very lucky in this county,” Dave Kerner, the Palm Beach County mayor, said in a news conference on Sunday.

Some Florida officials said that Isaias had served as somewhat of a drill. Bill Johnson, the emergency management director for Palm Beach County, described the combination of the coronavirus pandemic and a tropical storm as “something we have never done or been faced with before.”

“We are blessed that Hurricane Isaias spared us of significant damage,” he said. “I am pleased that this was more of an exercise than a real event.”

Rick Rojas reported from Atlanta, and Rebecca Halleck from New York. Melina Delkic contributed reporting from Cleveland; Christina Morales from Hialeah. Fla.; Rachel Knowles Scott from Nassau, the Bahamas; and Lucy Tompkins from Bozeman, Mont.


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