The Category 1 storm was located about 110 miles (175 kilometers) east-southeast of Isla Beata, Dominican Republic and was moving west-northwest at 31 mph (50 kph). It had maximum sustained winds of 120 kph (75 mph), and the hurricane was expected to become a tropical storm after hitting Cuba, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The long-term forecast track showed it heading toward Florida as a tropical storm Tuesday morning, but some models would take it to the Gulf or the Atlantic Coast.
In Haiti, authorities used social media to alert people to the hurricane and urged them to evacuate if they lived near water or on the slopes of mountains.
“The entire country is threatened by this hurricane,” the Civil Protection Agency said in a statement. “Do your best to escape before it’s too late.”
Haiti is especially vulnerable to floods and landslides due to widespread erosion and deforestation.
People continued to buy food and water as the storm approached, and many are wary of its immediate and long-term impact on a country struggling with increased gang violence and deep political unrest.
“I am protecting myself as best I can. Civil protection is not going to do that for me,” said Darlene Jean-Pierre, 35, as she bought six jugs of water along with vegetables and fruits. “I have other concerns.” On the street, I have to worry about gang fights. In addition to this, we have a hurricane. I don’t know what kind of catastrophe this is going to cause. ”
A hurricane warning was issued for Jamaica and from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to Punta Palenque in the Dominican Republic. There was a hurricane warning for the Cuban provinces of Camagüey, Granma, Guantánamo, Holguín, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba. Some of those provinces have reported a large number of Covid-19 infections, raising concerns that the storm could force large groups of people to seek shelter together.
“Anticipating is the key word,” said Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, adding that vaccination efforts will continue. “Let’s take care of lives and property.”
In neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, authorities opened more than 2,400 shelters when meteorologists warned of heavy rains that will begin on Saturday before dawn.
Elsa is forecast to pass through the southernmost point of Hispaniola on Saturday afternoon and then target communities in southern Haiti.
The storm had already ripped off roofs, destroyed crops and downed trees and power lines in the eastern Caribbean on Friday, with damage reported in Barbados, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which also suffered massive volcanic eruptions that began in April.
At least 43 homes and three police stations were damaged, San Vicente Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves said.
“We expect this number to increase as reports continue to come in,” he said. “We have some damage, but it could have been a lot worse.”
In St. Lucia, the wind damaged a high school, hit desks, tipped over chairs and sent papers flying after blowing off the roof and siding.
Elsa is the first hurricane of the Atlantic season and the fifth oldest storm on record. It is forecast that 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches) of rain with a maximum total of 38 centimeters (15 inches) fall in southern parts of Hispaniola and Jamaica.