Tropical Storm Isaac crossed Haiti, killing at least one person, made landfall in Cuba Saturday afternoon, and is expected to build to hurricane strength as churns ominously toward South Florida.
With the threat that it could hit South Florida as a possible Category 2 hurricane, Florida Gov. Rick Scott issued a state of emergency, and local officials announced that schools will close Monday in Monroe, Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
Scott, on a brief stop in South Florida Saturday, said that Isaac’s current path “is not positive for our state.’’
“The most important thing is continue to get prepared, to have a plan in place,” said the governor, who visited Broward County’s Emergency Operations Center.
The National Hurricane Center placed the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida under a hurricane warning, with Isaac expected to approach Sunday as a 75- to 80-mph hurricane, veering across the Lower Keys and skirting the state’s southwestern tip. Miami-Dade was under a hurricane watch and tropical storm warnings and watches extended up the east coast to Sebastian.
At 2 p.m., the National Hurricane Center reported that much of Florida’s west coast was under a tropical storm watch, including Tampa Bay, where the Republican National Convention is scheduled to begin on Monday. NHC Director Rick Knabb said flooding from storm surge was a possibility as Isaac passes off the coast, possibly as a strong Category 2 hurricane.
The northern coastline of Cuba, on Saturday afternoon, was feeling the brunt of Isaac’s weather.
Havana’s Meteorological Institute reported that the storm touched down in Maisi, a municipality east of Guantanamo Saturday afternoon.
Radio Baracoa reported that two homes in the island’s eastern most city of 48,000 had collapsed and that the storm surge had thrown up a lot of debris on its seaside Malecon boulevard and nearby streets.
But the storm’s drama fizzled at the U.S. Navy base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, where the military had scrapped this month’s Sept. 11 terror trial hearings and evacuated staff and observers from the crude compound called Camp Justice.
“The bad weather did not materialize here as tropical storm Isaac turned away and headed up the East coast of Cuba,” said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, the detention center spokesman.
The base did not report any damage or injuries in what amounted to a splash of summertime rain. Soldiers embarked on late-morning runs around the 45-square-mile base, while the base commander ordered the cafeterias reopened in time for 5:30 p.m. Saturday supper.
Forecasters believe the system’s jaunt over Cuba will be brief — and allow the storm more time to strengthen in the warm waters of the Florida Straits.
The sprawling storm could produce from six to 10 inches of rain and powerful gusts across much of South Florida, with tropical storm force winds beginning to buffet the Keys Sunday and building to hurricane force. Squalls that drenched South Florida overnight and Saturday morning weren’t part of Isaac but a hint of the dreary weather to come.
“It’s going to be a day to stay inside,” said Adam Futterman, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service’s Key West office. “Travel is strongly discouraged.’’
Scott also issued an executive order, a standard process prior to a storm or hurricane makes landfall to provide adequate time for cities and counties to begin preparing. It directs all state agencies, including the Florida National Guard, to provide any needed assistance to local governments.
The state’s emergency operations center is also fully activated.
Across South Florida, government workers were preparing. Some residents made last-minute trips to buy supplies, while others sought to keep some routine.
Charles Winick, his 8-year-old triplets in tow, visited the West Regional Library in Plantation Saturday for a weekly library trip.
“We weren’t going to let it stop us,” he said. “It doesn’t look like it is going to hit us.”
In Homestead — ground zero for Hurricane Andrew two decades ago — city officials set up two self-service sandbag stations. The city will provide a mound of sand at each of the stations and empty bags. The sandbag stations will be located at Harris Field Park, 1034 NE 8 St., and Roby George Park, 975 SW 4th St.
Down in Monroe, shelters opened at 2 p.m. Saturday as the sheriff’s office urged tourists to evacuate the island chain. As weather was worsening— with tropical storm-force winds likely to last the island early Sunday morning — Key West International Airport was slated to close at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Frank Gambino, of Marathon pool-service company, is concerned about flooding. Back in 2005, the morning after Hurricane Wilma hit, storm surge in the Keys reached nine feet.
“I’m making sure I get everything off the floor in case we get some localized flooding,” Gambino said. “We don’t plan on working until Tuesday at least. But it all depends on the severity of the storm.”
Down U.S. 1, Forest Tek Lumber also was busy, but plywood wasn’t flying off the shelves. Most residents in the Keys already have storm shutters and were just in need of shutter clips or wing nuts to fasten them. Many Keys homeowners also have high impact windows and glass, to help with insurance rates and peace of mind.
“It’s not as busy as it used to be when people weren’t as prepared,” said Mike Rundgren, contract manager for Forest Tek. “But we do have quite a few last minute people here for batteries and flashlights.”
Across the Caribbean, Haiti appeared to have been saved from the worst of Isaac but flooding persisted in places including a quake-battered Port-au-Prince. An overflowing Grise River, which begins in Petionville, flooded the road leading to the U.S. Embassy and left scores of homes in Cite Soleil near Route 9 underwater.
Residents waded through knee-high water as streets and parking lots turned into a mucky-brown river.
“I wasn’t able to save anything; everything’s gone,” a distraught resident, Mrs. Marc Henri-Louis, cried as she stood along the street watching her flooded house.
A few feet away, a group of young men loitered a USAID depot, stealing bags of beans.
In Zorange, where hundreds of government-constructed houses for quake victims remain empty, thieves walked around with hammers stealing doors and tin sheeting off houses.
But these were isolated incidents. Haitian officials, which responded quickly to calls for help through the night, warned Haitians to remain indoors, stay off bridges and do not cross rivers.
Edgar Celestin, communications officer with the Office of Civil Protection, confirms one dead: a 10-year-old girl in Thomazeau, a community north of the capital. She died when a wall on her house collapsed on her. There was another unconfirmed report of a death, a woman in Jacmel who was killed when a tree fell on her.