Threat to Florida eases as Isaias slated to remain tropical storm

THREAT TO FLORIDA EASES AS ISAIAS SLATED TO REMAIN TROPICAL STORM
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Isaias roared closer to the Florida coast Sunday, threatening to bring strong winds, flash flooding and storm surges but no longer expected to regain hurricane strength.

Tropical storm Isaias, downgraded from a category 1 hurricane, was packing sustained winds of 65 miles (105 kilometers) per hour on Sunday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

"Some fluctuations in strength" are possible in the next two days, the storm center said, but Isaias is not expected to regain its hurricane status.

At 2:00 pm, the storm was 45 miles (72 kilometers) from Vero Beach, Florida and 90 miles from the space center at Cape Canaveral, moving northwest at nine miles per hour, the Miami-based NHC said.

The NHC said the center of Isaias was expected to move "near or over the east coast of Florida today through late tonight," before moving on Monday and Tuesday into the southern mid-Atlantic.

The storm earlier dumped torrential rain on the Bahamas, felling trees and flooding some streets; on Sunday, emergency management officials gave the "all clear" for the entire country. But Isaias claimed at least one life in Puerto Rico.

Florida's coast was experiencing heavy wind gusts Sunday, and storm surges of up to four feet (1.2 meters) are still expected from northern Florida to Cape Fear, North Carolina.

President Donald Trump had declared an emergency ahead of the storm's arrival to free up federal funds.

Governor Ron DeSantis warned Floridians late Saturday to brace for the storm.

As the state battened down, it was also battling its coronavirus outbreak, which has complicated preparations.

Florida has the second-highest caseload of all states except California -- which has double the population.

On Sunday, Florida reported 77 COVID-19 deaths, down from a record 179 the day before, bringing its death total to 6,920.

The storm has had an impact beyond earth too, with NASA closely monitoring it before finally giving the green light to the SpaceX Crew Dragon craft to return two astronauts from the International Space Station.

The craft splashed down Sunday afternoon in a decidedly calm Gulf of Mexico -- hundreds of miles west of Isaias's track -- and was successfully retrieved by SpaceX's specialized GO Navigator vessel.

'Hunker down'

Earlier, as the storm approached, Florida residents had rushed to stock up on essentials.

Jason Woodall, 44, was boarding up the Miami Beach store where he works. "You always got to be prepared, just in case, because you never know," he said.

DeSantis said that with the state's high number of virus cases, it's better to "just hunker down rather than sending people to the road."

Still, the storm hampered efforts to contain the pandemic.

Florida's coronavirus testing centers, many housed in tents, were closed Thursday and will not reopen until they get the all-clear after the storm.

"Once we resume testing, it's very possible we will have a surge again," Miami mayor Francis Suarez told CNN on Sunday.

Flooded houses, downed trees

Isaias unleashed destruction in Puerto Rico, downing trees and electric lines and inundating houses as it cut a path through the island on Thursday.

Authorities there said Saturday they had recovered the body of a 56-year-old woman whose car had been swept away by storm waters.

In the Bahamas, the deputy director of the country's meteorology department, Jeffrey Simmons, told The Nassau Guardian "the worst part" of the storm came to New Providence, the most populous island, early Saturday.

It was the archipelago's first hurricane since Dorian, a Category 5 storm last year that devastated two islands, pummeling them for three days.

And in the Dominican Republic, people were cleaning up after the Magua river burst its banks.

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