Tropical Storm Elsa intensified into a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday, hours before a planned landing on the north coast of the Gulf of Florida, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Elsa’s center was about 165 miles (165 kilometers) south-southwest of Tampa, Florida, and was moving north at about 15 kilometers per hour (nine miles per hour), with sustained maximum winds of 120 miles per hour, according to the NHC. on a notice at 8pm (Wednesday at 12am GMT).
In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the Miami-based NHC warned of isolated life-threatening storms, floods and tornadoes. A hurricane warning has been issued for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key in the Tampa Bay area to the Steinhatchee River, about 290 miles north along the Gulf Coast, and Elsa will arrive on Wednesday morning.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said the storm was expected to hit land between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. (12:00 p.m. and 1 p.m. GMT) around the Tampa Bay region.
Now “it’s not a time to have a good time” because “we have dangerous conditions,” DeSantis said Tuesday, warning that the area would be hit hard by the storm overnight.
Across the Tampa Bay area, home to about 3.5 million people, events, government offices and schools closed Tuesday before the storm. Tampa International Airport closed at 5pm (21:00 GMT) due to the possibility of storms.
Florida Gov. Jeanette Nunez urged residents of the state to begin preparing for the storm, including the possibility of power outages, and asked people to store an adequate supply of food and water. .
“If you are asked to evacuate, please leave,” he said, reminding people that there were emergency shelters ready to accommodate them.
After making landfall, the storm is expected to move north-northeast through the southeastern U.S. on Thursday, with between five and 10 inches of rain falling on the Florida peninsula.
The storm threatens to prevent the search and rescue effort at the site of the collapse of the condominium building in Surfside, near Miami, where crews have been passing through rubble for 12 days in hopes of finding survivors. . As of Tuesday, the deaths of 36 people and 109 still missing were confirmed, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.
Further south, the Cubans breathed a sigh of relief as Elsa seemed to have caused little damage, while actually helping to replenish water tanks.
The capital of Havana woke up with a overcast sky after a night of rain, but no major flooding or damage on Tuesday. Cubans returned to the streets after authorities issued a tropical storm warning, although heavy rains were prevented from continuing in some parts of the country.
“It’s good that Elsa hasn’t caused major damage because here we have a really complicated situation with the coronavirus and now the hurricanes,” said Susana Perez, 68, a retired teacher, queuing up to buy oil due to widespread shortages of goods in Cuba.
Last week, Elsa, which briefly strengthened in the first hurricane of the season, caused at least three dead and damage to infrastructure and agriculture in the Caribbean island nations in eastern Cuba.
According to government officials, preliminary damage estimates were more than $ 12 million in St. Lucia and $ 5.3 million in Jamaica.
The arrival of Elsa represented the earliest date on which a so-called fifth storm, which usually does not arrive before August, affected the region.