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Isaac getting stronger in Gulf, leaves power outages, flood warnings in its wake

Tropical Storm Isaac lashed South Florida with its tail Monday, triggering widespread power outages and flash flooding alerts even as the storm grew stronger and slowed in its path to the Gulf Coast.

Four states were under a state of emergency along the Gulf of Mexico in anticipation of Isaac’s emergence as a Category 1 hurricane Monday night or Tuesday morning — Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. With landfall still uncertain, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus opened his party’s convention Monday morning in Tampa, then recessed until Tuesday less than two minutes later.

“Isaac expected to be a hurricane soon,” the National Hurricane Center said in its 8 p.m. advisory. It warned of a “significant storm surge and flood threat from rainfall expected along the northern Gulf coast.”

Maximum sustained winds were near 70 mph.

The National Weather Service predicted earlier that Isaac would make landfall as a Category 1 hurricane along the northern Gulf Coast late Tuesday night or very early Wednesday.

The core was in the Gulf but tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 205 miles from the center, making for a miserable South Florida day for about 62,000 homes and businesses that remained without power due to damaged and downed power lines and transformers operated by Florida Power & Light.

“A lot of people get misled by not seeing a truck in their neighborhood,’’ said FPL spokesman Richard Gibbs. “I can tell you there are a ton of people working behind the scenes to get power restored.”

About 24,130 customers (out of more than 1 million) in Miami-Dade were without power in the early evening Monday, while in Broward about 21,570 customers (out of 874,500) were experiencing outages, according to FPL.

About 16,190 customers (out of 687,000) in Palm Beach were without power. The utility has about 2.4 million customers in the tri-county area. FPL crews were working since Sunday night to repair downed lines and blown transformers, said Peter Robbins, another FPL spokesman, adding that the overnight winds and rains made work difficult

Wind-wise, Isaac didn’t amount to much. But its stubborn stormy outer bands continued to drench Southeast Florida from Miami-Dade to Palm Beach counties, saturating the grounds and causing canals to overflow into the streets, creating hazardous driving conditions. West Palm Beach County got the worst of it — 12 inches of rain made for widespread flooding.

Broward Emergency Operations Director Chuck Lanza captured the mood on Monday afternoon when he said the weather had been “much worse today” than it was Sunday.

“We don’t want people out driving if they can avoid it,” Lanza cautioned as the National Weather Service issued flood alerts. “In some areas, you can’t tell where the street ends and where the canal starts. Its dangerous.”

The additional deluge came on top of rain that made the 24 hours from Sunday morning through Monday morning the wettest 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, Isaac dumped an average of 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.

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.

While South Florida appears to have dodged the worst of Isaac, the region was advised to be alert for rip currents and dangerous surf through at least Tuesday.

Assessing the damage so far, Gov. Rick Scott said Monday evening that Florida was fortunate to only see mild flooding and sporadic power outages in some parts of the state. Still, he said the storm could do its worst damage in the Gulf Coast and the Florida Panhandle in the coming days.

“Now it’s headed to Southeast Louisiana,” he said. “While that might be a positive for Florida, your heart goes out to the individuals in Louisiana.”

Scott canceled his upcoming appearances at the Republican National Convention, and said he would spend Tuesday in Tallahassee to assess the impact of the storm.

“My job is to makes sure that the 19 million people [in Florida] are safe,” he said. “Our focus is to keep everybody safe and keep everybody alive.”

In Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, life on the remote U.S. Navy base resumed its routine Monday after a three-day disruption that canceled this month’s pre-trial hearings in the Sept. 11 terror case and forced postponement until October.

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 a hurricane-proof building those detainees and troops that are usually housed in sea-front lockups and trailer parks.

Damage to the crude war court compound overlooking the bay and prison camps complex overlooking the Caribbean was “minimal,” said 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.

About 158 flights were canceled and 117 were delayed at Miami International Airport as of 5 p.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 resulted in more than 500 flights cancelled.

“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 affected blood collections, forcing the nonprofit group to close its doors Sunday. Most Community Blood Centers reopened Monday — 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. Palm Beach and Monroe County public schools will closed Tuesday. Broward and Miami-Dade plan to reopen Tuesday.

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

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.

For South Florida, Isaac’s broad tail of rain could continue to cause problems. 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. “There was a lot of wind, a lot of rain. 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.’’

She 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.

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.

Miami Herald staff writers Curtis Morgan, Cammy Clark, Hannah Sampson, Christina Veiga, Laura Isensee, Lazaro Gamio, Susan Cocking, Kathleen McGrory and Toluse Olorunnipa contributed to this report from Tallahassee.

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