TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (The News Service of Florida) — Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday issued a state of emergency for all counties along Florida’s east coast in response to Hurricane Isaias as the storm tracks close to the state’s shoreline along its northern journey.
While no state-run shelters are currently open, DeSantis announced the emergency declaration as the National Hurricane Center issued a hurricane watch from north of Deerfield Beach to the Volusia-Brevard county line.
DeSantis cautioned people to take the system seriously and have seven-days of food, water and medicine on hand.
“You should presume that if you’re in the path of this storm, you could lose power, so prepare accordingly,” DeSantis said during a press briefing at the state Emergency Operations Center on Friday.
Around noon Friday, the center of the storm was about 295 miles southeast of Nassau, packing maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and moving northwest at 16 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended up to 35 miles from the center, with tropical storm-force winds reaching out 205 miles, according to an 11 a.m. National Hurricane Center advisory.
The advisory said the storm is expected to continue to strengthen through Saturday morning. However, a gradual decrease in intensity is possible over the weekend, which DeSantis said could cause the system to shift closer to land.
“We’ll see if there’s a strengthening,” DeSantis said. “We think actually that may bow it out a little further off the east coast. But it has tracked a little bit further west in the last, would you say 12 hours, it’s tracked a little bit further west.”
Isaia’s impacts are expected to be felt in South Florida, one of the hardest-hit spots for COVID-19, starting Friday night.
DeSantis said there doesn’t appear to be an immediate concern about the storm’s impact on hospital personnel, but that could change if the hurricane’s track changes.
“This thing is something that’s very fluid, and we’re going to have to continue to be willing to respond very quickly to it,” the governor said. “I spoke with the mayor of Palm Beach County today. You know, they feel like they’re in (a) good position to respond.”
State emergency operations workers have been at a heightened state of alert since March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition to food and water stockpiles, the Division of Emergency Management has amassed 20 million masks, 20 million gloves, 10 million personal-protection gowns, 1.6 million face shields, and 20,000 thermometers, DeSantis said Friday. The division also purchased 50 additional generators, he said.
The pandemic has prompted the state to redraw plans for emergency shelters that could include using available hotel rooms or putting smaller groups into classrooms rather than housing large numbers of people in a single large locale.
“While we do not currently believe shelters will be necessary for this storm, we will be ready if they do become necessary,” the governor assured Floridians Friday.
The state Department of Emergency Operations had announced Thursday that all state-supported drive-through and walk-up COVID-19 testing sites would be closed for the storm. But as Isaias took a more eastern trajectory on Friday, DeSantis said testing sites on the west coast will continue to operate.
The U.S. Coast Guard on Friday placed Port Canaveral under condition “X-ray,” meaning tropical-storm force winds within 48 hours.
Port Key West and PortMiami have been placed under condition “Yankee,” indicating tropical-storm force winds within 24 hours, with cargo operations to be halted within 12 hours.
“The goal is to remain open for as long as safe operation is possible,” said Florida Ports Council President Doug Wheeler. “Then, the focus begins to make sure the port can get reopened up, making sure we are moving fuel back to the consumers along with the supplies that they need.”
State-backed Citizens Property Insurance advised people that, in addition to a disaster supply kit, they should ensure key property and family information — insurance policies, health records, financial records, pet records and identification documents — are stored in a safe, waterproof and easy to access location.
— News Service Assignment Manager Tom Urban contributed to this report.