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Isaias slightly strengthens as it crawls up Florida coastline

Brianna Thornberry, left, and Savannah Johnson of West Palm Beach fight the wind from Tropical Storm Isaias on Midtown Beach in Palm Beach, Fla., before being chased off the beach by police Sunday, Aug. 2, 2020. (Lannis Waters/The Palm Beach Post via AP)

VERO BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Bands of heavy rain from Isaias lashed Florida’s east coast on Sunday, with the tropical storm strengthening slightly in the evening on its way up the Eastern seabord.

Officials dealing with surging cases of the coronavirus in Florida kept a close watch on the storm that was weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm Saturday afternoon, but still brought heavy rain and flooding to Florida’s Atlantic coast.

The National Hurricane Center advised at 5 p.m. ET Sunday that the storm was about 65 miles off the midpoint of Florida’s east coast, and about 410 miles south of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

It was strengthening slightly with sustained winds just under a category 1 hurricane, taking a north-northwest path, according to the center.

“Don’t be fooled by the downgrade,î” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis warned at a news conference after the storm — pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs — spent hours roughing up the Bahamas.

Upper-level winds took much of the strength out of Isaias, said Stacy Stewart, senior hurricane specialist at the hurricane center in Miami.

“We were expecting a hurricane to develop and it didn’t,î” Stewart said Sunday. “It’s a tale of two storms. If you live on the west side of the storm, you didn’t get much. If you live east of the storm, there’s a lot of nasty weather there.î”

Authorities closed beaches, parks and virus testing sites, lashing signs to palm trees so they wouldn’t blow away. DeSantis said the state is anticipating power outages and asked residents to have a week’s supply of water, food and medicine on hand. Officials wrestled with how to prepare shelters where people can seek refuge from the storm if necessary, while also safely social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus.

In Palm Beach County, about 150 people were in shelters, said emergency management spokeswoman Lisa De La Rionda. The county has a voluntary evacuation order for those living in mobile or manufactured homes, or those who feel their home can’t withstand winds.

“We don’t anticipate many more evacuations,”î she said, adding that the evacuees are physically distant from each other and are wearing masks, due to the virus.

In Indian River County, north of West Palm Beach, Florida, emergency shelters were clearing out on Sunday after Isaias was downgraded to a tropical storm.

Officials told TCPalm newspapers that 38 people registered at three schools used as shelters. Those areas now must be cleaned to ensure no traces of the coronavirus remain as teachers and staff report today to prepare for the upcoming school year.

No one checked in with COVID-19 symptoms. Temperature checks were done at the door, officials said, and isolation rooms were designated in case anyone came in with symptoms.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds declined steadily throughout Saturday, and were at 65 mph at 2 p.m. ET Sunday, before crawling back up to 70 mph a few hours later, the hurricane center said.

“The center of Isaias will move offshore of the coast of Georgia and southern South Carolina on Monday, move inland over eastern North Carolina Monday night and move along the coast of the mid-Atlantic states on Tuesday,î” according to the hurricane center.

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