Hurricane Isaias has lashed the Bahamas as it churns towards Florida, bringing new dangers to a US state suffering record deaths from an unrelenting coronavirus outbreak.

Residents cover a window with plywood in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias, in the Heritage neighbourhood of Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, July 31, 2020.
Residents cover a window with plywood in preparation for the arrival of Hurricane Isaias, in the Heritage neighbourhood of Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas, July 31, 2020. (AP)

Hurricane Isaias has strengthened slightly as it has lashed the Bahamas, bearing down on Florida.

Isaias was carrying top sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph) and was located about 125 km (80 miles) south-southeast of the Bahamas capital Nassau at 5 am (0900 GMT) heading northwest, the National Hurricane Center said.

Its centre was approaching Andros Island in the Bahamas and was due to pass over or near islands in the central and northwest Bahamas on Saturday, bringing a danger of damaging storm surges of up to 1.52 m (5 feet) over normal tide levels, the NHC said.

Meanwhile, officials in the Bahamas evacuated people on Abaco island, who have been living in temporary structures since Dorian. People living in the eastern end of Grand Bahama were also being moved.

Paula Miller, Mercy Corps director for the Bahamas, told The Associated Press that while the islands can normally withstand strong hurricanes, some have been destabilised by the coronavirus pandemic and the damage caused by Dorian.

“With everything not quite shored up, property not secured, home not prepared, even a Category 1 will be enough to set them back,” she said.

Two of those islands, Abaco and Grand Bahama, were battered by Dorian, a Category 5 storm that hovered over the area for two days and killed at least 70 people, with more than 280 reported missing. People are still living in tents on both islands, and officials said crews tried to remove leftover debris ahead of Isaias.

READ MORE: Dorian strikes Bahamas with record fury as Category 5 storm

Curfew imposed

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis relaxed a coronavirus lockdown as a result of the storm, but imposed a 10 pm to 5 am curfew. He said supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations and hardware stores would be open as long as weather permitted.

The Bahamas has reported more than 570 confirmed Covid-19 cases and at least 14 deaths. It recently barred travellers from the US following a surge in cases after it reopened to international tourism.

Measures in parts of Florida

The storm, a Category 1 on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale, prompted authorities in parts of Florida to close Covid-19 testing sites and people to stock up on essentials.

Isaias was expected to deliver heavy rains to the state's Atlantic coast beginning late Friday before hitting the eastern Carolinas by early next week, the NHC said.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis established a state of emergency for a dozen counties on the Atlantic coast, which makes it easier to mobilise resources.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper followed suit.

'No need to open shelters' in Miami

Public beaches, parks, marinas and golf courses were closed in Miami-Dade County on Friday.

Miami Mayor Carlos Gimenez said on Friday that 20 evacuation centres were on standby that could be set up with Covid-19 safety measures.

“We still don’t think there is a need to open shelters for this storm, but they are ready,” he said.

Miami-Dade and Broward counties also closed drive-through and walk-up testing sites for Covid-19, as the state at the epicentre of the country's outbreak reported a record increase in coronavirus deaths for a fourth day in a row.

DeSantis said testing sites would remain open on Florida's west coast, and testing at hospitals and community centres may also continue. 

READ MORE: US once again registers more than 70,000 new Covid-19 cases

Fire and rescue members cut the branches of a tree that fell under the heavy rain caused by the Isaias Storm in Santo Domingo, on July 30, 2020.
Fire and rescue members cut the branches of a tree that fell under the heavy rain caused by the Isaias Storm in Santo Domingo, on July 30, 2020. (AFP)

Flooding and landslides

On Thursday, while still a tropical storm, Isaias toppled trees, destroyed crops and caused widespread flooding and small landslides in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people were left without power and water.

Officials reported that a man died in the Dominican Republic when he was electrocuted by a fallen electrical cable. More than 5,000 people were evacuated, and more than 130 communities remained cut off by floodwaters.

In Puerto Rico, the National Guard rescued at least 35 people from floodwaters that swept away one woman who remained missing.

READ MORE: Hurricane Hanna threatens flash floods in coronavirus-hit Texas

Source: TRTWorld and agencies