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Isaias, again a tropical storm, spawns wild inland weather

Toms River, N.J. — Tropical Storm Isaias spawned tornadoes and dumped rain during an inland march up the U.S. East Coast on Tuesday after making landfall as a hurricane near Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina.

The hurricane's eye moved over land just after 11 p.m. on Monday with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (136 km/h), and its top winds dropped to 70 miles per hour (117 km/h) by early Tuesday. But forecasters said it would continue to make a mess of things while moving into New England by late Tuesday.


“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 Northeast over the next day or two,” Robbie Berg, a hurricane specialist with the National Hurricane Center, told The Associated Press.


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 outages 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 window. 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 (128 kilometers) 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 (pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs) toggled between tropical storm and hurricane strength throughout its path to the U.S. 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 Monday night. The National Hurricane Center warned oceanside home dwellers to brace for storm surge up to 5 feet (1.5 meters) and up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in spots.


“All those rains could produce flash flooding across portions of the eastern Carolinas and mid-Atlantic, and even in the northeast U.S.,” 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 southeastern Virginia before daybreak, on a path to remain near or along the coast of mid-Atlantic states and continue across the northeastern United States later into the evening. Strong winds and heavy rainfall were expected to spread northward along the mid-Atlantic coast 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.


North Carolina Gov. Roy 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,” Cooper said.
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Associated Press reporters Russ Bynum in Savannah, Georgia; Jeffrey Collins and Michelle Liu in Columbia, South Carolina; Sarah Blake Morgan in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Sophia Tulp in Atlanta; Shawn Marsh in Trenton, New Jersey and AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Kensington, Maryland, contributed to this report.

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