- Florida’s Gulf Coast was under a tropical storm warning Monday in anticipation of Elsa.
- An estimated 180,000 Cubans have fled their homes as Elsa makes its way toward the island.
- Elsa is then forecast to move near or over portions of the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The National Weather Service extended a tropical storm warning for Florida’s Gulf Coast as far north as Tampa Bay on Monday as Tropical Storm Elsa slammed ashore in Cuba on a path toward the Sunshine State.
The National Weather Service said Elsa made landfall around 2 p.m. EDT. The storm was expected to move over west-central Cuba for the next several hours, move into the Florida Straits this evening, and pass near the Florida Keys early Tuesday. Elsa is forecast to move near or over portions of the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday.
About 180,000 Cubans fled their homes. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 15 counties.
“All Floridians should prepare for the possibility of heavy rain, flooding and potential power outages,” DeSantis wrote on Twitter. “Now is the time to restock your supplies and review your hurricane plan.”
Heavy rains and high winds began to sweep across parts of South Florida on Monday afternoon.
Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record and also broke the record as the tropic’s fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 31 mph Saturday morning, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
Miami-Dade County is home to the Champlain Towers South condo complex, which partially collapsed last month. Authorities took down the rest of the building Sunday amid concerns the storm would knock it to the ground. The death toll from that tragedy rose to 27 on Monday, and 118 people are missing.
DeSantis said Monday that Miami-Dade would be taken off the state-of-emergency list, citing the most recent forecasts placing the storm’s primary impact on the state’s Gulf Coast.
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Up to 4 inches of rain, with localized maximum amounts up to 6 inches, is expected across parts of Florida and coastal Georgia through Wednesday. That could trigger isolated flash, urban and minor river flooding, the weather service said. A few tornadoes are possible across south Florida on Monday night and across the Florida Peninsula on Tuesday.
A storm surge of up to 4 feet is forecast for some areas.
Elsa intensified to the season’s first hurricane late last week before returning to tropical storm status, sustained winds blasting at 60 mph midday Monday.
The storm was blamed for at least three deaths on its sweep through the Caribbean. One person died in St. Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency, and a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died in separate events in the Dominican Republic after walls collapsed on them, according to a statement from the Emergency Operations Center.
Barbados was hit hard, and more than 1,100 people reported damaged houses, including 62 homes that collapsed.
Tropical Storm Elsa: Forecasters keep a watchful eyeon Elsa as it tracks closer to Florida
Monday afternoon, the storm was centered southeast of Havana and headed northwest at 14 mph. AccuWeather meteorologist Thomas Geiger predicted Elsa would slide south of Cuba before turning north and moving briefly over the island. A small shift would cause Elsa to move northwest over Cuba for a longer period of time, he said.
Across portions of Cuba on Monday, rainfall of 5 to 10 inches with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches was expected, the weather service bulletin said.
“This will result in significant flash flooding and mudslides,” the bulletin said.
After crossing Cuba, Elsa is forecast to weaken as it moves into the Gulf of Mexico on Tuesday, which would keep most of the U.S. damage contained to the western side of Florida, Geiger said.
Contributing: Rick Neale, Florida Today; The Associate