Hurricane Isaias batters Bahamas on way to Florida coast

The storm has already caused widespread damage in several Caribbean island nations already grappling with coronavirus.

bahamas storm
Hurricane Isaias hit the Bahamas, where many residents are still living in temporary shelters from last year's Hurricane Dorian, on Saturday [Tim Aylen/AP]

Hurricane Isaias has ripped shingles off roofs and blew over trees as it carved its way through the Bahamas and strengthened slightly while heading towards the coast of Florida in the United States.

Isaias was carrying top sustained winds of 140km per hour (85 miles per hour) and was located about 80km (50 miles) south of the Bahamas capital, Nassau, at 8am (12:00 GMT) on Saturday heading northwest, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). 

The storm, a Category 1 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, was approaching Andros Island in the Bahamas and was due to pass over or near islands in the central and northwest Bahamas later on Saturday, bringing a danger of damaging storm surges of up to 1.5 metres (five feet) over normal tide levels, the NHC said. 

A hurricane warning was in effect on Saturday for the northwest Bahamas but was no longer in effect for the central Bahamas, authorities there said.

Trevor Basden, the director of the Bahamas meteorology department advised that residents “continue to hunker down”.

On at least two islands in the country, Abaco and Grand Bahama, which were battered by Category 5 Hurricane Dorian in August 2019, some residents were still living in temporary structures and had to be evacuated as Isaias approached.

Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press news agency that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, some have been destabilised by the coronavirus pandemic and the damage caused by Dorian.

“With everything not quite shored up, property not secured, home not prepared, even a category one will be enough to set them back,” she said.

On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, Isaias toppled trees, destroyed crops and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people were left without power and water. 

At least two people were killed in the Dominican Republic as a result of the storm, with one man electrocuted by a fallen power line.

Florida prepares

In Florida, meanwhile, Governor Ron DeSantis has established a state of emergency for a dozen counties on the Atlantic coast, which makes it easier to mobilise resources. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has also followed suit. 

The storm has also prompted authorities in parts of Florida to close coronavirus testing sites amid a recent surge in cases that has made the state the outbreak’s new epicentre.

“Remain vigilant,” DeSantis said at a news conference on Saturday morning, warning that slight variations in the Isaias’ path could make the difference between coastal communities facing hurricane-force winds or something more like a severe thunderstorm. 

He urged people to have seven days of food, water and medication on hand.

Scores of hotel rooms along Florida’s east coast have been set aside for any people with COVID-19 who are ordered to evacuate their homes where they have been isolating themselves, the governor said.

Meanwhile, officials in Miami said they were closing beaches, marinas and parks.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies