Miami, United States: Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, lashing the Gulf Coast of the southern US state with strong winds and heavy rain, the National Hurricane Center said.
The NHC said the center of the storm, which was downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane overnight, was making landfall in Taylor County along the Gulf Coast of northern Florida.
Elsa was packing maximum sustained winds of 65 miles per hour (100 kilometers per hour), and was expected to weaken as it moved further inland on a northern trajectory.
Tampa airport suspended commercial flights from Tuesday into Wednesday, but the storm ended up making landfall well to the north of the third-largest city in Florida.
Elsa was logged as the first hurricane of this year’s Atlantic season before being downgraded to a tropical storm again.
The NHC said the western and northern portions of the Florida Peninsula could expect between three and six inches of rain, raising the possibility of “considerable” flooding.
Tornadoes were possible on Wednesday in northern Florida, southeastern Georgia, and eastern South Carolina, it said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis urged residents to take precautions.
“This is not a time to joyride,” DeSantis said at a Tuesday night press briefing. “You do have hazardous conditions out there.”
Lieutenant-Governor Jeanette Nunez called on Floridians to be prepared for the possibility of power blackouts and to stockpile adequate supplies of food and water.
Over the weekend, Elsa battered Jamaica and Cuba, claiming at least three lives as it cut a path of destruction through the Caribbean.
States of alarm were sounded in the Cuban provinces of Havana, Mayabeque and Artemisa as thousands were evacuated from their homes — efforts complicated by Covid-19 as the country endured its worst chapter yet of the pandemic.
“Protecting ourselves against Elsa cannot mean letting our guard down against Covid,” Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said.
Shops closed in Havana and driving was restricted to civil defense vehicles.
Elsa claimed two lives in the Dominican Republic and a third in the island state of Santa Lucia, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency said.
With gusting winds, Elsa has complicated an already challenging search mission for survivors of the June 24 deadly condo tower collapse in Surfside, a town north of Miami Beach on Florida’s east coast.
The condo disaster left 36 confirmed deaths but another 109 people are still listed as missing.