MYRTLE BEACH (AFP) – Hurricane Isaias slammed into North Carolina bringing life-threatening storm surges, as the entire United States (US) eastern seaboard battened down, fearing tornadoes, flash floods and destructive winds.
Packing sustained winds of around 140 kilometres per hour, the Category 1 hurricane made landfall in the southern part of the state on Monday just before midnight, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Seawater flowed into streets on the border between the Carolinas, leaving locals to wade through the flooded areas as rain and strong winds whipped the palm trees.
Three hours after reaching the coast, Isaias was downgraded to a Tropical Storm, the NHC said yesterday.
It is forecast to track up the east coast, with heavy rainfall expected to cause flash flooding through the mid-Atlantic states.
Storm-force winds are expected in Washington, Philadelphia and New York.
A tornado watch was in effect for 30 counties in North Carolina, where State Governor Roy Cooper said National Guard soldiers and the Coast Guard were standing by.
Utility companies said on Monday about 200,000 outages have occurred across the state.
Local authorities reported a number of fires in structures on the south coast and warned people whose houses are flooded to turn off the mains electricity – while not standing in the water.
Santee Cooper, South Carolina’s state-owned utilities company, said more than 6,000 customers had been without power at one point.
Residents in flood-prone areas “should take all necessary actions to protect life and property from rising water and the potential for other dangerous conditions”, the NHC said.
“Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”
US President Donald Trump announced earlier Monday he had issued emergency declarations for Florida and both Carolinas, freeing up federal funds.
“Everyone needs to remain vigilant,” he warned during a news conference.
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy declared a statewide state of emergency ahead of Isaias’ arrival, warning residents to stay off the roads in stormy conditions.
The Carolinas have seen a recent surge in coronavirus cases as the US struggles to curb the spread of the illness.
Cooper said on Monday shelters are open and will screen people for COVID-19 symptoms – anyone infected will be sent for isolation out of danger.
“I know that Carolinians have had to dig deep in recent months to tap into our strength and resilience during the pandemic and that hasn’t been easy,” he said.
“But with this storm on the way, we have to dig a little deeper. Let’s keep each other safe from the wind and water, as well as from the virus.”
The storm earlier dumped torrential rain on the Bahamas, felling trees and flooding streets, before emergency management officials on Sunday gave the all-clear.
At least one person died in Puerto Rico and the storm also lashed Haiti and the Dominican Republic.