In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center warned of potentially deadly storm surge, flooding and isolated tornadoes. A hurricane watch was issued for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River in Florida’s Big Bend area.
Bands of rain were expected to reach Surfside on Florida’s Atlantic coast, soaking the debris from Champlain Towers South, which collapsed on June 24, killing at least 28 people and leaving 117 missing. Search and rescue teams have worked in the rain but must stop when lightning threatens, and a garage area in the caked debris is already filled with water Monday, authorities said.
Elsa’s maximum sustained winds intensified to 60 mph (95 kph) early Tuesday morning. A slow strengthening is forecast through Tuesday night and Elsa could be close to hurricane strength before it makes landfall in Florida. Its core was about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southwest of Key West, Florida, and 270 miles (435 kilometers) south of Tampa. It was continuing to move northwest at 12 mph (19 kph).
The forecast included the possibility of tornadoes in South Florida on Tuesday morning and over the upper part of the peninsula later that day.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis expanded the state of emergency to cover a dozen counties where Elsa was expected to make a quick move Wednesday, and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state ahead of the storm.
Forecasters predicted that Elsa would hit the coast of Georgia and South Carolina after Florida. The Georgia coast was under a tropical storm watch, as was much of the South Carolina coast. Forecasters said tornadoes could occur in the eastern Carolinas and Virginia as Elsa moves north.
Storm surge could reach 5 feet (1.5 meters) above normally dry land in the Tampa Bay area if Elsa passes at high tide, forecasters said. Commander Col. Ben Jonsson said only essential personnel were allowed Tuesday morning at MacDill Air Force Base, which is located along the bay on the South Tampa peninsula.
Tampa International Airport plans to close Tuesday at 5 p.m.
At a news conference Tuesday morning, DeSantis reminded residents not to focus on Tropical Storm Elsa’s so-called “cone of concern” because “impacts from the storm are expected outside of that area.”
“And if you look at the storm, it’s incredibly lopsided to the east,” DeSantis said. “So most of the rain will be east of the center of the storm.”
Elsa’s westward drift prevented the lower Florida Keys from taking a direct hit, but the islands were still getting plenty of rain and wind Tuesday. Tropical storm warnings were issued for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas and for the west coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to the Ochlockonee River.
Margarita Pedroza, who lives on a boat off Key West, told WPLG that a stronger storm would have forced her to disembark, but that she was weathering this one. “Just close the hatches and get ready,” he told the television station.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s as strong as some of the other storms that have come in, so hopefully the winds won’t be as strong and maybe there will be some rain, but hopefully not much rain,” he said. .
Cuban officials evacuated 180,000 people due to the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that has already hit several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people. But Elsa spent Sunday and much of Monday sweeping parallel to the southern coast of Cuba, preventing most of the island from suffering significant effects.
He made landfall in Cuba near Cienega de Zapata, a natural park with few inhabitants, and crossed the island east of Havana. Rain Tuesday in parts of Cuba was expected to reach 10 inches (25 centimeters) with isolated highs of 15 inches (38 centimeters), resulting in major flash floods and landslides. But there were no initial reports of serious damage on the island.
“The wind blows strong and there is a lot of rain. A little water is entering under the door of my house. In the patio the level is high, but it did not enter the house,” said Lázaro Ramón Sosa, craftsman and photographer who He lives in the town of Cienega de Zapata, he told The Associated Press by phone.
Sosa said he saw some avocado trees fall nearby.
Tropical storm conditions continued in central and western Cuba Tuesday morning, even as the storm reached Florida.
Elsa was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season through Saturday morning and caused widespread damage across several eastern Caribbean islands on Friday. As a tropical storm, it resulted in the death of one person in Saint Lucia and a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman in the Dominican Republic.
Elsa is the fifth oldest named storm on record, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.