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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Coast Guard Prepares as Florida Readies for Hurricane Isaias During COVID-19 Spike

The U.S. Coast Guard and emergency management agencies were bracing today for the challenge of a hurricane hitting the East Coast during a pandemic.

A hurricane watch has been issued for portions of the Florida east coast from north of Deerfield Beach northward to the Volusia-Brevard County line, according to the National Hurricane Center’s 11 a.m. EST update. A tropical storm warning has been issued for portions of the Florida coast from north of Ocean Reef northward to Sebastian Inlet and for Lake Okeechobee.

“We are coordinating with officials in Puerto Rico & the U.S.V.I. to assess Hurricane #Isaias’s impact & any needs that have not been met. Together with our federal partners, @fema pre-staged commodities and deployed teams on the ground to support Caribbean response operations,” tweeted FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor.

Isaias is currently a category 1 hurricane moving over the Bahamas today, where a hurricane warning is in effect. Prime Minister Hubert Minnis warned residents that holding hurricane parties during the pandemic could be “devastating.”

“Interests elsewhere along the southeast coast of the United States should monitor the progress of Isaias,” NHC said. “Additional watches or warnings may be required later today.”

Some strengthening is possible before the storm gets to Florida on Saturday, and NHC said Isaias is expected to remain a hurricane “for the next few days.” The projected path, while too early to predict intensity and exact route, tracks up the East Coast toward New York.

Coast Guard Prepares as Florida Readies for Hurricane Isaias During COVID-19 Spike Homeland Security Today
National Hurricane Center

In a hard-hit state that just reported its fourth day of record coronavirus deaths, the Florida Division of Emergency Management temporarily closed all state-supported drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing sites on Thursday evening. “Testing sites are closing out of an abundance of caution to keep individuals operating and attending the sites safe. All sites have free standing structures including tents and other equipment, which cannot withstand tropical storm force winds, and could cause damage to people and property if not secured,” the agency said.

Isaias dumped several inches of rain on Puerto Rico on Thursday, knocking out power to more than 448,000 homes and businesses and triggering landslides and flooding.

The Coast Guard reopened ports in San Juan and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Thursday afternoon, and continued to assess other ports in Puerto Rico. All mariners using reopened ports were advised to use caution due to floating debris and report any abnormalities to USCG.

Effective 6 a.m. today, USCG set port condition Yankee for PortMiami with the expectation of tropical storm force winds within 24 hours, requiring all vessels greater than 500 gross tons to depart and terminals and facilities to cease all cargo operations and secure handling equipment within the next 12 hours. Bridges will be locked down eight hours before the anticipated arrival of sustained gale force winds.

Port condition Yankee was put into effect at 8 a.m. EST for Key West, requiring all vessels greater than 300 gross tons to depart. “Mariners are reminded there are no safe havens in these facilities, and ports are safest when the inventory of vessels are at a minimum,” USCG said. “All ocean-going commercial vessels and ocean-going barges without approved applications to remain in port shall depart at this time.”

At 10 a.m., port condition X-ray was in effect at the Port of Canaveral as tropical-force winds are expected within 48 hours. The ports of Fernandina and Jacksonville will go into port condition X-ray at 8 p.m.

“While current projections have the eye of Isaias remaining at sea, the situation remains fluid and can change quickly,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said at a press conference today at the Florida Division of Emergency Management, noting that “the most recent forecast, it brings that eye closer to the coast.” In case emergency shelters are needed, he said, the state will use “new and detailed shelter guidance for all counties in light of COVID-19 and has prepared shelter kits with hand sanitizer, masks, and gloves ready to be deployed upon request.” All nursing homes have generators, he said.

Farther north, the Coast Guard Sector Virginia Captain of the Port set port condition Whiskey at noon, anticipating possible gale-force winds at the Virginia Capes within 72 hours. “It is too soon to tell if landfall will be made or where, or what the intensity of the storm will be when it reaches the mid-Atlantic coastal region,” the advisory said. “The Captain of the Port will assess forecasts on a continual basis and coordinate with stakeholders to determine what level of potential port closures are required going forward. The Captain of the Port anticipates setting Port Condition X-RAY mid-day tomorrow, August 1st upon reviewing updated forecast models.”

The Coast Guard issued key safety messages to the public before Isaias’ arrival:

  • Stay off the water. The Coast Guard’s search and rescue capabilities degrade as storm conditions strengthen. This means help could be delayed. Boaters should heed weather watches, warnings and small craft advisories.
  • Evacuate as necessary. If mandatory evacuations are set for an area, the public should evacuate without delay. Coast Guard personnel and other emergency responders may not be able to evacuate or rescue those in danger during the storm.
  • Secure belongings. Owners of large boats are urged to move their vessels to inland marinas where they will be less vulnerable to breaking free of their moorings or to sustaining damage. Trailer-able boats should be pulled from the water and stored in a place that is not prone to flooding. Those who are leaving their boats in the water are reminded to remove EPIRBs and to secure life rings, lifejackets and small boats. These items, if not properly secured, can break free and require valuable search and rescue resources be diverted to ensure people are not in distress.
  • Stay clear of beaches. Wave heights and currents typically increase before a storm makes landfall. Even the best swimmers can fall victim to the strong waves and rip currents caused by hurricanes. Swimmers should stay clear of beaches until local lifeguards and law enforcement officials say the water is safe.
  • Be prepared. Area residents should be prepared by developing a family plan, creating a disaster supply kit, having a place to go, securing their home and having a plan for pets. Information can be found at the National Hurricane Center’s webpage.
  • Stay informed. The public should monitor the progress and strength of the storm through local television, radio and Internet. Boaters can monitor its progress on VHF radio channel 16. Information can also be obtained on small craft advisories and warnings on VHF radio channel 16.

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Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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