Elsa strengthens to hurricane as it floats off Florida coast

After ravaging Cuba with drenching rain and high winds, Elsa regained hurricane strength late Tuesday as it approached Florida, where rescuers continued their search for the rubble of a Miami condominium that collapsed nearly two weeks ago.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Elsa had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph and was just offshore from the Tampa Bay area at 11 p.m. (0300 GMT) with “heavy rains and gusts that spread inland over the southwest”. and west-central Florida.”

After making landfall on the Florida coast, it is expected to head inland to the southeastern United States on Thursday, the NHC said.

With a possible storm surge of up to five feet, Tampa airport has suspended commercial flights from 5 p.m. Tuesday to at least 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez called on state residents to prepare for the storm, including the possibility of power outages, and asked people to stock up on food and water.

“If you are asked to evacuate, please leave,” she said, reminding people that emergency shelters were ready to house them.

Elsa left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean, claiming at least three lives. It was recorded on Friday as the first hurricane of this year’s Atlantic season before being downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday — then back to a hurricane Tuesday.

More than 100,000 people were evacuated from coastal or low-lying areas as the storm sliced ​​through Cuba, with the Insmet National Meteorological Institute reporting winds of up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour.

But the predicted western path meant Florida looked poised to avoid the worst storm, with the state’s southwest coast taking a quick hit instead of the previously expected direct hit.

In Surfside, on Florida’s east coast, workers on Sunday used explosives in the controlled demolition of the still-standing portion of a collapsed apartment building — a job sped up for fears Elsa might topple the building.

The flat disaster left 36 confirmed deaths, but a further 109 people are still reported missing.

On Monday, Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava told CNN that officials were “very hopeful” that with Elsa’s current path, they wouldn’t have to interrupt search and rescue efforts after all.

Alarm Conditions

The 200 or so search and rescue workers at the wreckage continued their operations throughout Tuesday, despite increasing wind and rain.

More than two tons of debris have been removed from the site since excavations began more than a week ago.

Meanwhile, as Elsa engulfed Cuba, alarms were raised in Havana, Mayabeque and Artemisa provinces as thousands were evacuated from their homes — efforts made more difficult by Covid-19 as Cuba experienced the worst chapter of the pandemic yet.

“Protecting ourselves from Elsa cannot mean not being wary of Covid,” Prime Minister Manuel Marrero said.

Shops closed in Havana and driving was limited to civil defense vehicles.

Elsa claimed two lives in the Dominican Republic and a third in the island state of Santa Lucia during her previous approach through the Caribbean, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency (CDEMA) said.

Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel said late Sunday on Twitter that damage was only to agricultural crops.

Elsa’s arrival was the earliest date a fifth named storm — which doesn’t normally arrive before August — has hit the region.

(AFP)

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