Power outages, flood warnings in Isaac’s wake; Gulf Coast in the crosshairs

Isaac caused power outages across South Florida on Monday, and now looms as a potential disaster for the Gulf Coast.

08/27/2012 5:00 AM

09/08/2014 6:02 PM

Tens of thousands of homes and businesses remained without power Monday across South Florida as the remnants of Tropical Storm Isaac continue to wreak havoc for power lines and transformers operated by Florida Power & Light — and triggered flash flood warnings in the afternoon.

Wind-wise, Isaac didn’t amount to much but its stubborn stormy outer bands continued to drench Southeast Florida from Miami to Palm Beach counties on Monday.

The National Weather Service put eastern Broward and Palm Beach counties under a flash flood warning at 1:37 p.m., and said it would be in place until 4:30 p.m. Much of the rest of the coast was under a flood advisory.

“A flood advisory means ponding of water in urban or other areas is occurring or is imminent,” a NWS warning said. “Runoff may also elevate water levels in canals and ditches.”

The additional deluge was coming on top of rain that made Sunday-through Monday morning the wettest 24 hours since Hurricane Mitch in 1998, said Gabe Margasak, a spokesman for the South Florida Water Management District.

Across the district, which stretches from Key West to Orlando, Issac dumped nearly 3.5 inches but some spots in Palm Beach County recorded up to a foot. Sunrise in Broward saw more than six inches. And that was through 6:30 a.m. — not including the squalls that continued to rush across the state from Isaac’s center some 200 miles away.

As the region struggled to return to normal following Isaac’s brush of wind gusts and rain on Sunday, about 70,000 FPL customers were reported to be without power as of noon Monday.

About 29,000 customers (out of 1 million) in Miami-Dade were without power as of 1 p.m., while in Broward nearly 25,000 customers (out of 874,500) were experiencing outages, according to Florida Power & Light. About 20,000 customers (out of 687,000) in Palm Beach were without power. The utility has about 2.4 million customers in the tri-county area, including more than 1 million in Miami-Dade.

FPL crews have been working since Sunday night to repair downed lines and blown transformers, said Peter Robbins, an FPL spokesman, adding that the overnight winds and rains have made work difficult.

“We’ve restored a lot of customers,’’ Robbins said, but added that given Isaac’s continued wind gusts, “We’re not out of the woods yet.’’

In Monroe County, both electric companies servicing the Keys — Florida Keys Electric Cooperative and Keys Energy — reported sporadic outages, but said that crews were able to restore service.

Isaac remains a tropical storm but is forecast to strengthen through the day as it moves through the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and heads toward Louisiana and Mississippi.

While South Florida appears to have dodged the worst of Isaac, the region remains under a flood watch until 8 p.m.

The northern Gulf Coast now faces a potential strike from Isaac. Hurricane watches and warnings were in effect for portions of the Louisiana coast, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami forecasts that Isaac will strengthen into hurricane status before making landfall in the northern Gulf Coast early Wednesday with 90- to 95-mile-per-hour winds, a strong Category 1.

The storm is forecast to land close enough to Florida’s Panhandle that Gov. Rick Scott said he will return to Tallahassee Monday, as he expects Isaac to increase wind speeds and become a slow-moving hurricane that will make landfall somewhere between Pensacola and Mobile, Ala., Tuesday night, and dump an estimated 16 inches on the already-soaked Panhandle.

“Our risk right now is the Panhandle,’’ he told Florida delegates at the group’s breakfast meeting on Monday at Innisbrook Resort and Spa in Palm Harbor near Tampa. “It is drenched already.”

In Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, life on the remote U.S. Navy base resumed its routine Monday.

All 168 captives were back in their usual surroundings, the detention center spokesman said, referring to an array of five prison camps, the detention center hospital and psych ward. Before Isaac swerved north and away from the base, the detention center moved to hurricane-proof building those detainees and troops who are usually housed in sea-front lockups and trailer parks.

Damage to the crude war court compound overlooking Guantanamo bay and the sprawling prison camps complex overlooking the Caribbean was “minimal,” said the spokesman, Navy Capt. Robert Durand. Troops found “pools of water on roadways, minor leaks and seepage but no major storm damage.’’

“We are back to routine operations,’’ he said midday Monday by email.

Beaches were still closed Monday across the 45-square-mile Navy base because of rough seas.

But the base social director announced on Facebook that there would be Bingo at a hall adjacent to the Irish pub on Tuesday night. Monday night’s free-of-charge movie for troops and their families was That’s My Boy — the Adam Sandler R-rated comedy showing at the outdoor Lyceum drive-up cinema.

As Isaac makes its way up the Gulf on Monday, South Florida is slowly returning to a sense of normalcy, though in fits and starts.

About 150 flights have been canceled and 42 have been delayed at Miami International Airport as of 10 a.m., mostly from American Airlines and its sister carrier, American Eagle.

Greg Chin, an MIA spokesman, said Monday’s cancellations were a result of Sunday’s weather, which caused MIA’s largest carrier to cancel more than 500 flights.

“They can’t go from 500 flights canceled to 100 percent operations the next day,’’ he said. “They’re gradually bringing aircraft back.’’

Community Blood Centers of Florida reported that Isaac had impacted blood collections, forcing the nonprofit group to close its doors Sunday. Most Community Blood Centers reopened today — except for those in the Keys — and the agency issued a call for donations of all blood types, especially Rh negative.

Courthouses were closed throughout the region Monday. Public schools, Catholic schools and many college and university campuses were closed in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, though most were expected to reopen Tuesday.

“We’re very confident tomorrow will be a regular school day,’’ said Alberto Carvalho, superintendent of Miami-Dade Schools.

But many county and municipal services will resume today, including public transportation and garbage collection.

Miami-Dade government offices will remain closed, but public buses returned to service on most routes, with some delayed because of storm debris.

Metromover and Metrorail also have resumed after inspectors examined tracks for debris and other obstacles.

Broward government agencies, including parks, libraries and public transportation will be open for service today. Garbage pick-up for most Broward cities and unincorporated areas also will be on a normal schedule.

Broward crews were out early Monday assessing damage, and found “mid to moderate flooding in isolated areas,’’ said Margaret Stapleton, spokeswoman for the county’s Emergency Operations Center.

PortMiami and Port Everglades reopened Monday for landside operations only. Waterside operations at the ports were still restricted pending completion of channel surveys and safe sea conditions.

South Floridians were advised to head out cautiously, if at all, so city workers could clean up debris and check basic services that were shut down for the storm on Sunday.

Tri-Rail announced no service Monday, giving the time for engineers to do track inspections and maintenance in order to resume service Tuesday.

For South Florida, Isaac’s broad tail of rain could continue to remain a pain. But the storm largely amounted to what Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez called a practice run for a region that dodged its first hurricane strike since Wilma in 2005. Forecasters had predicted it might hit the Keys as a Category 1 hurricane.

“It’s a good thing. We prepared for the worst,’’ Gimenez said. “Obviously we’re not going to get the worst. It’s a relief.’’

Relief was the consensus among many in South Florida.

At Hallandale Beach’s Ingalls Park, city crews picked up dozens of fallen tree limbs and raked a bunch of leaves as the strong wind continued to blow.

“We were very, very fortunate,’’ said city spokesman Peter Dobens.

Crews were out Sunday and Monday city-wide filling truck beds and trailers with tree debris.

One tree at Ingalls Park lay resting on the park’s bridge. Dobens said that citywide there were only a few full trees down.

“There was a lot of wind, a lot of rain,’’ Dobens said. “It could have been worse.’’

In Hollywood, crews worked overnight into Monday morning clearing tree debris, said Raelin Storey, a city spokeswoman.

Despite concerns of flooding in Hollywood’s low-lying areas, though, Storey said the city “came through it pretty well.’’

Storey said the city suffered sporadic power outages, about a dozen felled trees and minimal standing water.

“All in all not too bad,’’ she said.

Homestead also appeared no worse for the wear.

“We’re doing pretty well,’’ said Homestead’s city manager, George Gretsas. “As of today, we’ve had minor flooding here or there, we’ve had very few power outages and mostly very little in terms of major debris.’’

The Homestead Police Department reported up to two feet of standing water in residential communities and a few sink holes possibly forming. One tree was downed.

The area’s agricultural community also fared relatively well. But some avocado trees lost fruit and broke branches in the high winds, said Teresa Olczyk, director of the Miami-Dade County/University of Florida Cooperative Extension office.

Agriculture officials are set to tour South Dade’s fields later Monday morning and will know the extent of the damage by the afternoon, they said.

“Thank goodness, it’s nothing like a serious hurricane,’’ Olczyk said.

Though damage appeared to be minimal to non-existent, emergency managers urged residents to head out cautiously, if at all, so workers could clean up debris and check equipment.

“We always have people get injured or killed post-storm,” Broward Emergency Operations Director Chuck Lanza said.

The single damage report to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office: a tree that fell onto the stairs of an unoccupied home on Big Pine Key.

In Haiti, meanwhile, the death toll continued to grow and officials were still assessing widespread damage.

The Office of Civil Protection on Monday reported 19 deaths — up from seven previously reported. The deaths included a young man killed in a landslide in DonDon, a town in northern Haiti, and a 10-year-old girl who was killed when her home collapsed north of Port-au-Prince.

In the tourist town of Jacmel, in Haiti’s southern peninsula, the damage was pronounced. Houses were still standing but crops, and livelihoods, were washed away.

The regional death toll now stands at 21, including two people who died after being swept away in a river in the Dominican Republic.

After passing over eastern Cuba, Isaac weakened a bit as its center skirted just south of Key West after a meandering journey across the Caribbean.

David Zelinsky, a meteorologist at NHC, said the storm hugged Cuba closely enough to disrupt its formation but it will fuel up on the warm Gulf of Mexico and there is nothing in the atmosphere likely to beat it down.

“It may take a little longer to become a hurricane but we’re still forecasting that,” he said.

Zelinsky cautioned Isaac could be stronger than the Category 2 now forecast. Pinpointing intensity is difficult, he said, and the average error two days out is a full category, plus or minus. The worst damage could come via storm surge, which could reach six to 12 feet on the stronger, right side of Isaac.

There also was considerable uncertainty about its path along the Gulf Coast. “Two of our best performing models are at opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Zelinsky. “One turns it farther right toward Florida, the other goes left.”

Either way, both scenarios suggested a nasty couple of days in Tampa, scene of this year’s Republican National Convention — no direct hit but a possible storm surge and certainly rain and tropical force winds.

Miami Herald staff writers Curtis Morgan, Cammy Clark, Christina Veiga, Laura Isensee, Lazaro Gamio, Susan Cocking, Kathleen McGrory and Jacqueline Charles in Haiti contributed to this report.

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