Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis: 'Be prepared' for Isaias

Gov. Ron DeSantis advised residents on Florida’s east coast to remain alert as the “ragged eye” of Hurricane Isaias continues to churn towards the Atlantic shore on Saturday.

“This stuff is all very much in flux and even if the eye of the storm stays off the coast, there, of course, is going to be impacts when you're talking about hurricane- or tropical-storm-force winds,” DeSantis told reporters Saturday morning during a brief update at the state Emergency Operations Center. “So, folks need to be prepared for that. And if you're in an area, in an evacuation zone, and you do get those orders to evacuate, please heed that call.”

The National Hurricane Center on Saturday morning said the “ragged eye” of Isaias was about 50 miles south of Nassau, Bahamas. With 85 mph maximum sustained winds, the storm was moving northwest at 12 mph. The forecast path was a little farther east and slower than in Friday’s tracking models.

A hurricane warning was in place from Boca Raton in Palm Beach County to the Volusia-Flagler county line. A warning is typically issued36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds, the advisory said.

"Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," weather officials advised.

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A tropical storm watch was in effect from Flagler County to Ponte Vedra Beach, and storm surge is expected from the Jupiter Inlet north to Ponte Vedra Beach near Jacksonville.

As of Saturday morning, no state-run shelters have been opened and no evacuations were ordered. The governor said some counties may require residents of mobile homes and those in coastal areas to relocate. 

The state is prepared to provide shelter in hotels to evacuees that may be experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, DeSantis said.

“That has been something that's been prepared for, that has not been necessary up to this point,” he said. “We'll see over the next twelve to 24 hours whether that will be. But that is an option.”

With hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 35 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds reaching out up to 175 miles, Isaias is predicted to brush Florida’s Atlantic coast starting Saturday afternoon.

“Little change in strength is expected through Sunday, and Isaias is forecast to remain a hurricane during this time,” a Saturday morning advisory said.

DeSantis on Friday declared a state of emergency for 19 counties along the east coast, and 12 counties --- Palm Beach, Monroe, Volusia, Osceola, Seminole, Brevard, Indian River, Martin, Orange, Okeechobee, Glades, and Flagler --- have issued local states of emergency.

President Donald Trump approved the state’s request for a pre-landfall emergency declaration that will provide federal reimbursement for mass-care feeding and sheltering. DeSantis made the request Friday afternoon, shortly after Isaias reached hurricane strength.

The governor met with the president, his close ally, at a coronavirus-related event at the Pelican Golf Club in Belleair late Friday afternoon.

Trump, who was unsure that the storm had reached hurricane strength, told DeSantis that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was set to respond to the state’s needs.

“My administration will be here for you every single step of the way. We’ve done everything we can do, and now we’re just waiting for the storm,” Trump said during the Pinellas County roundtable.

The state Division of Emergency Management is sending sheltering kits to counties in the potential path of Isaias. The kits include personal protective equipment and 1.8 million meals. The state is also working with utility companies to pre-stage power restoration crews. 

The state’s largest energy providers have warned customers to expect power outages as Isaias brushes the state. Officials from the energy providers have previously advised state utility regulators that, because of the coronavirus pandemic, out-of-state assistance may not be as available as it has been in previous storm events. The lack of additional aid could delay restoration efforts in some areas, they warned.

Meanwhile, special operations groups from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are on standby for urban search-and-rescue efforts.

Patients with COVID-19 at a Brevard County hospital are being relocated to a neighboring health-care facility, DeSantis said Saturday morning. The Department of Health doesn’t anticipate other hospitals needing to evacuate patients, he added.

“Pay close attention to The Weather Channel, to official updates at the state and local level,” DeSantis said. “This is something that's an evolving situation and we know we are going to get some impacts. What shape those impacts take remains to be seen.”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said residents need to hunker down.

“We’re going to feel strong winds and get heavy wind today, particularly between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.,” Gimenez told reporters during an early-morning video conference. “Everyone should be safely staying at home. Do not go out unless you really need to.”