Tropical storm Isaias, grazing Florida, takes aim at Carolinas

COLUMBIA (NYTIMES) – Tropical Storm Isaias buffeted Florida’s eastern edge Sunday (Aug 2) 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.

The storm failed to deliver the punch in Florida that state officials had feared.
The storm failed to deliver the punch in Florida that state officials had feared.PHOTO: AFP

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 less than 2km from the shore in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the centre 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 Saturday evening when its sustained winds slipped below 119kmh; they were about 104kmh most of Sunday but picked up again to 112kmh 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 pummelling the Bahamas for the better part of the weekend, the storm blew away 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’ 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, South Carolina, closed in March because of the pandemic.

It was planning to reopen 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 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 80-96 kmh, with gusts of up to 112.

Those wind speeds can knock down trees, cause minor structural damage and litter roads with debris.

Rainfall will range from 100-150mm in most areas, with a few areas getting up to 200mm, which could lead to flash flooding.

Myrtle Beach will probably see the brunt of the storm Monday night, when the rain will increase and the risk of flash floods will be greatest. There could also be a storm surge of 2-4 feet, and a possibility of tornadoes.

In Palm Beach County, Florida, 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 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.”

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