Florida prepares for Tropical Storm Isaias as it moves up U.S. East Coast

The storm is expected to reach Florida on Sunday before heading north towards the Carolinas and eventually New York.

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By Phil Helsel, Minyvonne Burke and Ben Kesslen

Florida is bracing for Tropical Storm Isaias, expected to touchdown on the Sunshine State on Sunday before it moves up the U.S. East Coast.

With maximum sustained winds of 65 mph, the storm was downgraded form a hurricane Saturday afternoon. It moved over the Straits of Florida Saturday night before approaching the southeast coast of Florida early Sunday.

Isaias was initially forecast by the National Hurricane Center to "re-strengthen to a hurricane overnight," but in an 11am EST advisory, the center said it remains a tropical storm.

Isaias is moving northwest at 8 mph. Its center will reach Florida on Sunday, before moving north then north-northwest at a quicker speed.

On Sunday, the hurricane center discontinued its storm surge watch for Florida's east coast, saying the area should prepare for 2 to 4 inches of rain in most areas, and 6 inches in some isolated areas.

A person looks out as waves kicked up by the Tropical Storm Isaias crash along the shore in Deerfield Beach, Fla., on Aug. 2, 2020.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

The center issued some new warnings on Sunday for the Carolinas, adding a storm surge watch between Edisto Beach, South Carolina, and Cape Fear, North Carolina. Waters there could surge up to 4 feet, and the area should expect 3 to 5 inches of rain, and up to 7 inches in the areas hardest hit.

“The potential for a couple tornadoes will begin along coastal South Carolina during the late afternoon and evening on Monday, spreading across eastern North Carolina on Monday night," the center said in its Sunday forecast.

Eventually, Isaias will make its way up to southeast New York and New England, which can expect up to 4 inches of rain in most places, forecasters predict.

As Florida buckles down on Sunday, the state is already fighting the coronavirus pandemic and one county official in South Florida said Friday it was hard to imagine that they were now dealing with a storm.

"It's just kind of been the way 2020's going so far, but we roll with it, right?" Howard Tipton, administrator for St. Lucie County, which is north of Palm Beach County, said at a news conference. "We don't get to determine the cards that we're dealt."

Gov. Ron DeSantis said Saturday that a request he sent to President Donald Trump for a federal disaster declaration was approved, and "the state of Florida is fully prepared."

DeSantis, who has urged residents to have seven days' worth of food, water and medicine on hand ahead of the storm, said that while he doesn't “anticipate hospitals needing to evacuate patients," one small hospital in Brevard County moved its COVID-19 patients to another location.

NASA on Saturday said that despite the weather "conditions are 'Go'" for the scheduled return Sunday afternoon of astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, who departed for the International Space Station aboard SpaceX's Endeavour spacecraft in late May.

NASA said in a statement that they could splash down at a primary landing site off the coast of Pensacola or at an alternate site off of Panama City. Both are in the Gulf of Mexico.

Miami-Dade County meanwhile ordered parks, beaches, marinas and golf courses closed through at least Saturday.

Tropical Storm Isaias.NOAA

Palm Beach County, which was under an earlier hurricane warning, said it was opening four shelters and one for animals Saturday morning. The shelters are for residents of mobile or manufactured homes and other housing deemed substandard.

Florida Power & Light Company said it activated its emergency response plan and recruited around 2,000 people from 10 states to help restore power. The utility expects a large part of its coverage area to feel the storm's effects.

Anthony Perrone pulls the hurricane shutters closed on his home in Lake Worth, Florida on July 31, 2020.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez on Saturday morning told residents to stay home and that high winds and flooding were expected in some areas of South Florida by mid-afternoon.

Authorities in North Carolina ordered the evacuation of Oracoke Island, which was slammed by last year’s Hurricane Dorian, as well as that of Holden Beach, and Ocean Isle Beach. Cape Lookout National Seashore said it would close at 5 p.m.

The Bahamas evacuated people in Abaco, who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian, and those on the eastern end of Grand Bahama. The storm knocked shingles off roofs and tumbled trees as it carved its way through the archipelago.

Donald Bowen, left, and Doug Smith put shutters over the windows of their business as Tropical Storm Isaias approaches in Stuart, Fla., on Aug. 1, 2020.Joe Raedle / Getty Images

On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, Isaias toppled trees, destroyed crops and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people were left without power and water.

Officials reported that a man died in the Dominican Republic when he was electrocuted by a fallen electrical cable. More than 5,000 people were evacuated, and more than 130 communities remained cut off by floodwaters.

The Associated Press and Dennis Romero contributed.