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Tropical Storm Elsa Becomes Hurricane, Headed to Florida Gulf Coast

Brittany Jordan

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VENICE BEACH, Fla.—Tropical Storm Elsa strengthened into a Category 1 hurricane on Tuesday, hours before an expected landfall on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

The center of Elsa was about 100 miles (165 km) south-southwest of Tampa, Florida, and was moving north at around 9 miles per hour (15 km per hour), with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph), the NHC said in an 8 p.m. ET (0000 GMT on Wednesday) advisory.

A hurricane watch was in effect from Egmont Key, in the Tampa Bay region, to the Steinhatchee River some 180 miles north along the Gulf Coast, with Elsa due to make landfall on Wednesday morning. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said the storm was expected to come ashore between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. ET (1200 and 1300 GMT) around the Tampa Bay area.

The sky was gray but conditions dry on Tuesday afternoon in Venice Beach, about 70 miles south of Tampa.

Photographers take pictures of the sky full of clouds after the passage of Tropical Storm Elsa, in Havana, Cuba, on July 5, 2021. (Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo)

Michelle and Amador Diaz were there from Albuquerque to celebrate their 32nd wedding anniversary and were enjoying a walk along the beach.

“We’re not scared of the storm,” Amador Diaz said. “I’d rather have this than the sun out.”

After landfall, the storm is forecast to move north-northeastward across the southeast of the United States through Thursday, dropping 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) of rain across the Florida peninsula.

Tornadoes were possible on Tuesday across Florida and on Wednesday in north Florida, southeast Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, the NHC said.

Strong winds and rain slammed Key West on Tuesday morning and caused the streets to flood as the storm passed by offshore.

Tropical Storm Elsa
Pedestrians dash across the intersection of Greene and Duval streets as heavy winds and rain associated with Tropical Storm Elsa passes Key West, Fla., on July 6, 2021. (Rob O’Neal/The Key West Citizen via AP)

The storm threatens to impede the search and rescue effort at the site of the condominium building collapse in Surfside, near Miami, where crews have been sifting through rubble for 12 days in hopes of finding survivors. As of Tuesday, 36 people were confirmed dead and 109 were still missing, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said.

Water Replenished in Cuba

Farther south, Cubans breathed a sigh of relief as Elsa appeared to have caused little damage, while actually helping to replenish water reservoirs.

The capital city of Havana awoke to overcast skies after a rainy night but no major flooding or damage on Tuesday. Cubans returned to the streets after authorities lifted a tropical storm warning, although heavy rains were set to continue in parts of the country.

“It’s good that Elsa did not cause major damage because we have a really complicated situation here with the coronavirus and now the hurricanes,” said Susana Perez, 68, a retired teacher, queuing up to buy oil amid widespread shortages of goods in Cuba.

Last week Elsa, which briefly strengthened into the first hurricane of the season, caused at least three deaths and damage to infrastructure and agriculture in Caribbean island nations east of Cuba.

Preliminary damage estimates were at more than $12 million in St Lucia and $5.3 million in Jamaica, according to government officials.

By Octavio Jones

Brittany Jordan is an award-winning journalist who reports on breaking news in the U.S. and globally for the Federal Inquirer. Prior to her position at the Federal Inquirer, she was a general assignment features reporter for Newsweek, where she wrote about technology, politics, government news and important global events around the world. Her work has also appeared in the Washington Post, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Toronto Star, Frederick News-Post, West Hawaii Today, the Miami Herald, and more. Brittany enjoys food, travel, photography, and hoarding notebooks and journals. Her goal is to do more longform features journalism, narrative writing and documentary work, and to one day write a successful novel and screenplay.

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