Isaias Reaches Canada as a Dwindling Storm – The New York Times

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Isaias, now a tropical storm, made landfall as a hurricane in North Carolina and is causing widespread power outages as it cuts a path north.CreditCredit…Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Isaias pounded a large swath of the Atlantic Coast on Tuesday, unleashing heavy rains and winds as fast as 70 miles per hour as it swept through the Carolinas and into the Northeast.

Isaias, which made landfall in North Carolina as a Category 1 hurricane and quickly weakened to a tropical storm, left a trail of floods, fires and hundreds of thousands of people without electricity. Some of the storm’s most devastating effects were wrought by a series of tornadoes that it spawned across its path.

The authorities said at least four people had died in the storm, including two people who were killed when a tornado struck a neighborhood in northeast North Carolina. A woman died in St. Mary’s County, Md., when a tree toppled by the winds landed on her vehicle, and a person died in New York City under similar circumstances.

By 11 p.m. Eastern, the center of Isaias, which is written as Isaías in Spanish and pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs, had crossed into southern Canada, about 45 miles east-southeast of Montreal. Most tropical storm warnings in the United States have ended, but tornadoes could still form in Maine, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Officials said that the storm’s rapid pace — as fast as 40 m.p.h. — stood to help limit river flooding and allowed the authorities to mobilize swiftly.

“All in all, this storm got in, got out pretty quickly,” Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina said in an interview on “Good Morning America” on Tuesday. Because of that, he added, the damage was not “as great as it could have been.”

Tornadoes had landed in parts of northeastern North Carolina, southeastern Virginia and southern New Jersey. Another likely touched down near Dover, Del. Photos and videos posted to social media showed trees snapped and pieces of buildings blown on top of vehicles. The New York City region was under a tornado watch until 4 p.m.

The storm had delivered only a glancing blow to Florida as it skirted the coast there, with officials expressing relief that it failed to cause the level of damage they had feared. Georgia was largely spared as well.

The authorities in Bertie County, N.C., were assessing the devastation caused by a tornado that ripped through a neighborhood overnight, killing at least two people.

Television footage showed a rural patch of mobile homes that had been eviscerated, leaving streaks of debris. One home had been reduced to splintered wood and metal, piled with kitchen appliances, furniture and laundry.

The Bertie County sheriff, John Holley, told reporters on Tuesday that the tornado touched down in the early morning hours on Tuesday, shredding the cluster of homes so intensely that only two still stood.

“The rest of them is pretty much gone,” he said in an interview with WVEC-TV, a television station based in Hampton, Va., adding that the community he regularly passed during 38 years with the Sheriff’s Department was now unrecognizable. “It don’t look real,” he said. “It’s sad and it’s hard.”

The authorities said at least 12 people had been hospitalized, and Mr. Holley said his deputies were looking for at least three people who were unaccounted for.

“Our hearts are heavy as we continue to survey damage and get the big picture about what transpired and just how many were impacted,” said Ron Wesson, the chairman of the Bertie County Board of Commissioners.

The authorities made it to the community in the northeast corner of the state before the storm had even passed, county officials said, with emergency workers contending with the wind and rain in the dark of night as they pulled people from their homes.

“We want to emphasize that this is not a recovery mission, and rescues are still taking place,” Mitch Cooper, the emergency management director for Bertie County, said on Tuesday.

Officials were also trying to take stock of the aftermath across the state. “We’ve had a number of tornadoes,” Governor Cooper said on “Good Morning America.” “I’m not sure of the count yet.”

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Credit…Gerry Broome/Associated Press

More than three million utility customers along the storm’s path in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York were without power, according to Poweroutage.us, a website that tracks and aggregates reports from utilities.

As of 11 p.m. Eastern time, nearly 1.2 million customers were without power in New Jersey, a number significantly higher than in any other state. In New York, more than 800,000 people were without power, and Connecticut had at least 600,000 customers without power.

Storms can disrupt power in a number of ways. Strong wind gusts can sometimes snap cables and poles directly, though utilities try to build and maintain their infrastructure to be wind-resistant. Often the culprit is a broken tree limb or debris from a building that strikes a power line, or a skidding vehicle hitting a pole. Lightning strikes can damage equipment, and so can wind-driven rain or flash floodwaters.

Downed power lines can remain dangerous even when the lights nearby seem to be out, and wet conditions add to the danger. Utility companies like Dominion Energy warn the public to stay at least 30 feet away, and not to attempt to move them.

Loss of off-site power caused one reactor at the Brunswick nuclear power plant in Southport, N.C., to automatically shut down overnight, according to a Nuclear Regulatory Commission notice. The plant’s other reactor was unaffected. The report said safety systems worked as intended and the impact of the shutdown was minimal.

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Credit…Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

At least one person was killed after Tropical Storm Isaias swept into New York, battering the Northeast with heavy rain, nearly hurricane-force winds and tornadoes.

The strong winds snapped branches and felled trees across the region. In Queens, the person was killed after a tree fell onto a vehicle, a spokesman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

By 3 p.m., high winds had already caused mayhem in and around New York City, with the Weather Service expecting “damaging winds” and the threat of tornadoes to continue through the afternoon.

Branches from trees lining neighborhood streets snapped and fell onto cars. In Gramercy Park, entire trees were toppled and one was split in half. Near Washington Square Park, a tree crashed into a parked van.

On Tuesday afternoon, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said some aboveground subway service, the Metro-North Railroad, Long Island Rail Road and the Staten Island Ferry were all temporarily suspended.

The Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge was temporarily closed to traffic in both directions. At a briefing on Tuesday afternoon, Sarah Feinberg, the interim president of the transit authority, said she could not say when full subway service would resume.

“As soon as the trees and debris are removed, we’ll obviously be back to full service,” she said. “Which may take some time given the number of trees and branches that are down and fences and other debris.”

Before the storm hit, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a statement on Tuesday that some inland areas in New York State could see up to six inches of rain.

He said the state had deployed rescue teams, with boats and high-water vehicles, to areas that could be hardest-hit by the storm. The state had also sent out water pumps, chain saws, sandbags and bottled water.

As Hurricane Isaias worked its way through the Mid-Atlantic states on Tuesday, its winds steadily diminishing, a new hazard arose: tornadoes.

It is not uncommon for hurricanes to spawn tornadoes, and they are similar to those that arise out of large thunderstorms in the Central Plains, said Jana Houser, an associate professor of meteorology at Ohio University.

Tornadoes are created in the outer rain bands of hurricanes, Dr. Houser said, which contain convective cells — thunderstorms — of their own. Once the rain bands reach land, surface friction greatly increases, slowing the storm’s winds that are close to the ground.

“You suddenly create a situation where you have a change in wind speed and often direction” compared with higher-altitude winds, Dr. Houser said. This is called wind shear, and it can induce a spinning movement in the air.

At first this creates a spinning cylinder of air that is parallel to the ground. But if updrafts tilt the spinning air upright, a tornado is born.

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Credit…Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Several homes caught fire, cars were swept away in floodwater, and outdoor stairways were ripped off houses as Isaias made landfall in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C., late Monday night.

Morgan Strenk watched from her vacation home as rising water flooded the streets outside and filled her basement with three feet of water.

“We didn’t think it was going to get to this level,” she said.

And while the water crept higher, a more urgent threat emerged: Stepping onto her porch, Ms. Strenk smelled smoke, and saw a house across the street going up in flames. The fire then spread to a neighboring house.

When a family came out of another nearby house, Ms. Strenk said she signaled with her flashlight to invite them to come shelter with her on the opposite side of the street.

One of the houses burned completely to the ground, Ms. Strenk said. Only a burned front porch and stairway remains of the other. Photos she took show a burned structure with only the stilts remaining, and a car that was swept up by the flood and dropped nose-down in a pool of water.

“The streets are just covered with debris, a lot of houses right on the shoreline lost their stairs,” she said on Tuesday. “There’s random pieces of furniture all over the place.”

In all, fire crews had to put out at least five structure fires, said Tony Casey, a spokesman for Horry County Fire Rescue, which had come from South Carolina to help the local firefighters.

Twin emergencies on two coasts this week — Hurricane Isaias and the Apple Fire, which has burned 27,000 acres in Southern California — offer a preview of life in a warming world and the steady danger of overlapping disasters.

And in both places, as well as everywhere between, a pandemic that keeps worsening.

Experts say that the pair of hazards bracketing the country this week offers a preview of life under climate change: a relentless grind of overlapping disasters, major or minor.

The coronavirus pandemic has further exposed flaws in the nation’s defenses, including weak construction standards in vulnerable areas, underfunded government agencies, and racial and income disparities that put some communities at greater risk. Experts argue that the country must fundamentally rethink how it prepares for similar disasters as the effects of global warming accelerate.

“State and local governments already stretched with Covid responses must now stretch even further,” said Lisa Anne Hamilton, adaptation program director at the Georgetown Climate Center in Washington. Better planning and preparation are crucial, she added, as the frequency and intensity of disasters increase.

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Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

In recent weeks as the coronavirus has been resurgent in many parts of the country, experts and politicians alike have implored people to protect themselves and others by always wearing a face mask in public.

Does that apply when you have to be out in the gusting wind and driving rain of a tropical storm? Our health columnist Tara Parker-Pope says, probably not: Face masks aren’t as effective when they are wet.

For one thing, it’s much harder to breathe through a wet mask than a dry one, Ms. Parker-Pope notes. And on top of that, a moist or wet mask doesn’t filter as well as a dry mask. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommends mask-wearing in general, says they should not be worn when doing things that may get the mask wet.

It doesn’t take a tropical storm to drench a mask, of course. They can become soaked with condensation from your breath or sweat from your face, and some people think of wetting them deliberately to cool off in hot weather. But the harm done is the same, wherever the moisture comes from.

A paper surgical mask that gets soaked should probably be discarded, Ms. Parker-Pope advises, but a cloth mask can be washed, dried and re-used.

When rain is coming down in buckets, social distancing is not likely to be a problem, and any viral particles exhaled by an infected person probably would be quickly diluted by gusting wind and rain. So there is little need to wear a mask out in a rainstorm, Ms. Parker-Pope notes: “In fact, you should take it off and keep it dry, so if you need to duck into a store to wait out the storm, you have a dry mask to wear indoors.”

Reporting was contributed by Johnny Diaz, Christopher Flavelle, Henry Fountain, Patrick J. Lyons, Tara Parker-Pope, Rick Rojas, Lucy Tompkins, Daniel Victor, Will Wright, Alan Yuhas and Mihir Zaveri