Tropical Storm Elsa brings heavy winds and life-threatening storm surge as it nears landfall along Florida’s west coast
Millions of people are facing life-threatening storm surge, heavy winds, potential isolated tornadoes and heavy rains that could create flooding up and down the coast of Florida as Tropical Storm Elsa approaches landfall Wednesday morning.
Elsa is churning off the western coast of Florida with maximum sustained winds of 65 mph as it moves north on a collision course with the Big Bend region, where it is expected to make landfall late Wednesday morning or early in the afternoon.
The storm was about 50 miles southwest of Cedar Key Wednesday morning.
Hurricane warnings were in place from the Chassahowitzka River, just to the south of Homosassa, Florida, to the Steinhatchee River. The hurricane warnings south of the Chassahowitzka River to Egmont Key, Florida, have been replaced by tropical storm warnings.
Bands of heavy rain and strong winds continue to spread inland across southwest and west-central Florida, according to the National Hurricane Center. A tornado watch has been issued for parts of Florida until 8 a.m., according to a tweet from the National Weather Service’s Tampa Bay office.
While the system weakened to a tropical storm early Wednesday after becoming a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday, hurricane warnings remain in place for more than four million people in Florida. More than 12 million people are under a tropical storm warning across three states.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded his state of emergency declaration Tuesday to include a total of 33 counties as local, state and utility resources continue to prepare for the incoming storm.
The Florida National Guard has activated 60 guardsmen to serve at the State Emergency Operations Center and Logistics Readiness Center, according to a release from the Guard. It is prepared to activate additional personnel as needed.
“We are well-equipped with assets including high-wheeled vehicles, helicopters, boats and generators, and are preparing for possible missions to include humanitarian assistance, security operations, search and rescue, aviation, and more,” the guard said in the release.
In Tampa, officials urged residents to stay off the roads as the storm approaches.
Counties and utilities preparing ahead of storm
Both the mayor and emergency coordinator for the city of Tampa posted on social media Tuesday to encourage residents to stay home and be prepared.
“We are prepared here in the city of Tampa but we need you to do your part as well,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a video posted to Twitter. “Don’t go outside tonight. If you don’t have to, do not go outside. Stay in.”
“We want everybody to be safe in Tampa and we’ll be up all night monitoring the storm so you don’t have to,” she added.
Earlier, Tampa Emergency Coordinator John Antapasis said it was time for residents to get to safety ahead of the expected landfall.
“Now is the time to get back home, get off the streets and stay safe for the rest of tonight,” he said. “You should be making and finalizing your hurricane plans and ensuring that you’re in a safe location while … Elsa makes it’s way through out community.”
Antapasis advised that people who need to be on the road should check the city’s flood map.
Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes also warned people to get ready for the storm during a press conference Tuesday.
“Please finalize your plans and secure your homes and get ready to sort of bunker down and ride out this storm,” Hopes said.
Shelters were opened in at least five counties Tuesday and two counties issued voluntary evacuation orders.
Duke Energy, which serves 1.8 million customers in Florida, according to its website, is preparing for anticipated outages from the storm.
The utility said in a press release Tuesday that it has staged 3,000 utility “crew members, contractors, tree specialists and other personnel” from Pinellas County to north Florida.
Additional line workers and support personnel have also been brought in from the Carolinas, Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, according to the release.
The University of Florida in Gainesville has canceled classes for Wednesday in anticipation of the storm, the university said in a statement.
Tropical storm warnings and emergency declarations extended
Ahead of Elsa’s landfall in Florida, tropical storm watches and warnings have been issued in Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia.
The warnings extend along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina.
A tropical storm watch has been issued for the entire coast of North Carolina and up to Chincoteague, Virginia, and for the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.
On Tuesday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp issued a State of Emergency in preparation for the impact of Elsa.
“This storm system has the potential to produce destructive impacts to citizens throughout the central, southern, and coastal regions of the State of Georgia and due to the possibility of downed trees, power lines, and debris, Georgia’s network of roads may be rendered impassable in the affected counties, isolating residences and persons from access to essential public services,” Kemp said.
A State of Emergency has been declared in 91 of Georgia’s 159 counties, according to Kemp’s order. The order will expire Wednesday at midnight unless the governor decides to renew it.
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