Hurricane Isaias approaches virus-weary Florida after lashing Bahamas

Hurricane Isaias broke trees and knocked out power, which exploded in the Bahamas on Saturday and headed for the Florida coast, where officials said they were closing beaches, parks and coronavirus testing sites.

The hurricane is occurring in places where the virus is increasing, threatening to complicate efforts to contain it and overwhelming other communities already affected by other storms and diseases.

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Florida officials said they had prepared shelters, but did not expect to have to evacuate people.

"The most important thing we want people to do now is to remain vigilant," said Governor Ron DeSantis.

North Carolina authorities ordered the evacuation of Ocracoke Island, which was hit by last year's Hurricane Dorian, starting Saturday night.

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Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 130 km / h at 11 am on Saturday morning, a slight decline from the start of the day, the US National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to drop 10 to 20 cm of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands. (NOAA via the Associated Press)

Meanwhile, authorities in the Bahamas have removed people from the island of Abaco who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian devastated the area, killing at least 70 people.

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Isaias had maximum sustained winds of 130 km / h at 11 am on Saturday morning, a slight decline from the start of the day, the US National Hurricane Center said. The storm was expected to drop 10 to 20 cm of rain in the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Caribbean hit

The center of the storm is expected to shift over northern Andros Island in the next few hours, to Grand Bahama Island, in the northwestern Bahamas, later in the day, and then near the east coast of Florida, overnight. Sunday. It is expected to weaken slowly on Monday.

Bahamas officials said they were concerned that a Category 1 storm was occurring amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"The center of COVID-19 is now in Grand Bahama," the island's minister, Senator Kwasi Thompson, told the government-run ZNS Bahamas. "Nobody wanted to see a situation where we are now facing a hurricane."

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Prime Minister of the Bahamas, Hubert Minnis, relaxed the blockade of the coronavirus as a result of the storm, but imposed 22 hours at night. at 5 am curfew. He said supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores will be open as long as time permits.

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The Bahamas recorded more than 570 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and at least 14 deaths. It recently banned US travelers after an increase in cases after the reopening of international tourism.

Paula Miller, director of the Mercy Corps for the Bahamas, told the Associated Press that people on the island were still in the gas line on Saturday before the storm.

WATCH Puerto Rico hit by Isaias:

Widespread damage reported as the storm gains hurricane strength en route to the US East Coast. 1:01

The area was still recovering from Dorian, complicating preparations for it.

"People are doing the best they can to prepare, but many companies have not yet completely repaired their roofs or structures," said Miller. "Even a low-level storm could really slow them down."

The storm was already destructive in the Caribbean: on Thursday, while it was still a tropical storm, Isaias uprooted trees, destroyed crops and caused widespread floods and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

One man died in the Dominican Republic, where more than 5,000 people were evacuated, hundreds of houses were damaged or destroyed and more than 130 communities were isolated by the flood waters.

In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from the floodwaters that swept away a woman who was still missing.

Storm complicates Florida's COVID-19 efforts

As it now moves toward the southeastern coast of Florida, a hurricane alert is in effect from Boca Raton to the Volusia-Flagler County line, which is about 240 kilometers to the north. A hurricane watch was in effect from Hallendale Beach, south of Boca Raton. A hurricane warning means that hurricane conditions are expected somewhere within the area, and a watch means that they are possible.

Florida has been a hot spot for coronaviruses in the United States for the past few weeks, and the storm is increasing some efforts to control the virus. State-run test sites are closing in areas where the storm can hit because the sites are outdoor tents, which can topple in high winds.

DeSantis, the governor, said on Saturday that 12 counties had adopted states of emergency, although no immediate evacuation orders were given. He also said that hospitals are not being evacuated from coronavirus or other patients.

The Republican governor said at a news conference in the morning that the state is prepared with stocks of personal protective equipment, generators, mineral water and meals ready to be distributed.

The pandemic forced authorities to fight physical distance rules at the same time as disaster response.

For example, in Marion County, Florida, officials say people would receive facial coverage if they needed to go to shelters. The facility will have disinfectants and personal protective equipment if necessary, although they prefer people to bring their own PPE.

Cars pass a sign displaying a hurricane warning in Boynton Beach, Florida, on Saturday. (Wilfredo Lee / The Associated Press)

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said that each person in a shelter needed to be 40 square feet, and that coffee shop-style dining would no longer be allowed. Any evacuees infected with the new coronavirus would be isolated in classrooms, separating them from the general population, said Gimenez.

Kevin Shelton, owner of Causeway Mowers in Indian Harbor Beach, Florida, said his store has been sold out since Friday. People came to buy generators, chainsaws and other supplies. On Saturday morning, Shelton and his wife served at least 25 customers an hour, which is double the deals they would normally do on a weekend.

"They are not talking much about COVID, just making sure they have the right supplies," he said. "We have been in the area for almost 50 years. We keep an eye out for all storms. Every time we have a storm, we take it seriously. It can change in that direction at any time."

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