Tropical Storm Isaias is expected to batter the coast of North and South Carolina on Monday, and will likely regain hurricane strength as it moves up the United States East Coast towards major cities such as Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

The storm poses an immediate threat to a stretch of coastline that includes the South Carolina tourist resort of Myrtle Beach and the North Carolina port city of Wilmington.

Though Isaias will likely weaken before dousing the US Northeast on Tuesday, New York City is already bracing for a storm surge in lower Manhattan, mindful of the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

In a warning to the Carolinas, the National Hurricane Center said: “Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion.”

While a few local officials on the coast ordered evacuations, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper also warned of inland flooding, as occurred with 2018’s Hurricane Florence, which killed 40 people and caused $17bn in damage in the state.

Swift water rescue teams, high-water vehicles and helicopters are standing by, and storm shelters are preparing at least 10sq metres (115sq feet) a person to assure COVID-19 social distancing.

“North Carolinians have had to dig deep in recent months to tap into our strength and resilience during the pandemic … but we have to dig a little deeper. Let’s keep each other safe from the wind and water, as well as from the virus,” Cooper said.

Hatteras Island was nearly deserted on Monday after officials ordered visitors and residents to leave, but some ignored the warnings.

Kevin Rowe, 63, of Indiana, was not about to let the storm cancel his family’s first visit to the Outer Banks.

“We’re a little bit of risk-takers,” said Rowe, who has been travelling the world for 11 years with his wife.

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