Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes and dumped rain during an inland march up the US east coast on Tuesday that has states on alert all the way up to Massachusetts after making landfall as a category 1 hurricane near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina, overnight, killing at least one person.
East coast metropolises including the Washington area, Philadelphia and New York were watching out for potentially dangerous winds and rain as the storm moved briskly.
The hurricane’s eye moved over land just after 11pm on Monday with maximum sustained winds of 85mph, and its top winds dropped to 70mph by early Tuesday. But forecasters said it would continue to inflict damage while moving into New England by late Tuesday.
Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina spoke of “double trouble” on ABC on Tuesday morning as he described the state trying to evacuate and rescue people as the hurricane hit while also trying to minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus.
The state had to provide more shelters, at least two dozen opening, so those having to leave their homes because of flooding or fire caused by power outages, could try to keep socially distant, while having temperature checks and wearing masks.
Cooper urged those evacuating to turn to shelters as a last resort, citing coronavirus risks and the need to operate shelters at reduced capacity to allow for social distancing. “Whether it’s labeled a tropical storm or a hurricane, you should take this storm seriously, and make sure your family is ready,” he said.
“All in all this storm got in and got out pretty quickly,” he told ABC’s Good Morning America on Tuesday. He added: “We are saddened by the one fatality we know we have.”
At least three states are under a federal emergency declaration.
“We don’t think there is going to be a whole lot of weakening, we still think there’s going to be very strong and gusty winds that will affect much of the mid-Atlantic and the north-east over the next day or two,” said Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center.
Forecasters had warned tornadoes were possible, and two were later confirmed, near Kilmarnock, Virginia, and Vienna, Maryland. Heavy rains were predicted, with falling trees causing power failures as Isaias moves north.
More than 500,000 customers lost electricity, most of them in North Carolina and Virginia, according to PowerOutage.US, which tracks utility reports.
In Suffolk, Virginia, near the coast, multiple homes were damaged by falling trees, and city officials received reports of a possible tornado. A fire station downtown sustained damage including broken windows. A photo posted by city officials showed a pile of bricks lying next to a damaged business.
The storm set off flooding and sparked five home fires in Ocean Isle Beach, Mayor Debbie Smith told WECT-TV. The town’s firefighters were battling the blaze with help from Horry county firefighters in South Carolina, Tony Casey, a spokesperson for Horry County Fire Rescue, told the Associated Press.
About 80 miles north of Ocean Isle Beach, about 30 people were displaced due to a fire at a condominium complex in Surf City, news outlets reported.
It is not clear if the fires were connected to the storm. No injuries have been reported.
Isaias toggled between tropical storm and hurricane strength throughout its path to the US coast, killing two people in the Caribbean and trashing the Bahamas before brushing past Florida.
Coastal shops and restaurants had closed early in the Carolinas, where power began to flicker at oceanfront hotels and even the most adventurous of beachgoers abandoned the sand on Monday night. The National Hurricane Center warned oceanside home dwellers to brace for storm surge up to 5ft (1.5 meters) and up to 8in (20cm) of rain in spots.
“All those rains could produce flash flooding across portions of the eastern Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, and even in the north-east US,” said Daniel Brown, senior hurricane specialist. A tropical storm warning extended all the way up to Maine, where flash flooding was possible in some areas on Wednesday.
The center was moving over south-eastern Virginia before daybreak, on a path to remain near or along the coast of mid-Atlantic states and continue across the north-eastern United States later into the evening.
Strong winds and heavy rainfall were expected to spread northward along the mid-Atlantic coast on Tuesday morning.
As the storm neared the shore, a gauge on a pier in Myrtle Beach recorded its third-highest water level since it was set up in 1976. Only Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016 pushed more salt water inland.