Hurricane Elsa strengthens to Category 1

Elsa is downgraded to a Category 2 tropical storm but continues to batter Florida with wind speeds of 70mph: Airports and schools are closed, a state of emergency is declared in 33 counties and the search for Surfside condo survivors is hampered

  • Elsa has been downgraded to a Category 2 tropical storm but is continuing to batter Florida with winds speeds of 70mph as airports and schools remain closed 
  • Storm is off the coast of Tampa and is expected to make landfall around mid-morning on Wednesday
  • While no mandatory evacuations were issued last night, voluntary evacuations were advised in some areas, mostly for people who felt unsafe in their homes or rely on electricity for medical needs 
  • The Tampa area is highly vulnerable to storm surge because the offshore waters and Tampa Bay are quite shallow, experts say. DeSantis said the area would take a hard hit from the storm overnight
  • Now is ‘not a time to joyride’ because ‘we do have hazardous conditions out there,’ DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday, later telling the Weather Channel: ‘There will definitely be significant impacts from this’ 
  • The storm’s rains lashed the Caribbean and the Florida Keys and complicated the search for survivors in the deadly collapse of a Miami-area condominium 12 days ago. So far, 36 people have been found in the rubble of the demolished building and 109 are still missing
  • The 200 or so search and rescue workers on the rubble pile carried on their operations all through Tuesday, despite strengthening wind and rain. Since excavations began over a week ago, more than two tons of rubble has been removed from the site 

Elsa has been downgraded to a Category 2 tropical storm but is continuing to batter Florida with winds speeds of 70mph as airports and schools remain closed and the search for Surfside condo survivors is hampered.

Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in more than 30 counties Tuesday night as Elsa barrelled towards the coast.  

The storm was around 60 miles southwest of Tampa as of 11pm and is expected to make landfall around mid-morning on Wednesday. 

While no mandatory evacuations were issued last night, voluntary evacuations were advised in some areas, mostly for people who felt unsafe in their homes or rely on electricity for medical needs, the Weather Channel reports.

The Tampa area is highly vulnerable to storm surge because the offshore waters and Tampa Bay are quite shallow, experts say. DeSantis said the area would take a hard hit from the storm overnight.

Now is ‘not a time to joyride’ because ‘we do have hazardous conditions out there,’ DeSantis said at a news conference Tuesday, later telling the Weather Channel: ‘There will definitely be significant impacts from this.’

The storm’s rains lashed the Caribbean and the Florida Keys and complicated the search for survivors in the deadly collapse of a Miami-area condominium 12 days ago. So far, 36 people have been found in the rubble of the demolished building and 109 are still missing.

The 200 or so search and rescue workers on the rubble pile carried on their operations all through Tuesday, despite strengthening wind and rain. Since excavations began over a week ago, more than two tons of rubble has been removed from the site. 

High winds and heavy rain forced beachgoers to ditch their plans as the storm moved over the Florida Keys on Monday

Fire and rescue teams searching through the rubble of the Miami condo collapse are battered by wind and rain on Tuesday

Beachgoers could be seen running in every direction as the storm started to bear down on the Keys

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration satellite image taken at 12.20am on July 7, 2021 shows Hurricane Elsa above the state of Florida after moving up from Cuba in the Caribbean 

This graphic shows Hurricane Elsa bearing down on the Florida coast, and its expected trajectory 

Surfers took to the waves at Blin Pass Beach on Tuesday as the outer bands of the storm picked up speed

A sign at Tampa International Airport advises motorists of the closing of the airport from 5:00 p.m. until 10:00 a.m as Hurricane Elsa moves northward 

A man walked  past sand bags placed at the entrance of a store to prevent flooding in Clearwater Beach

Shawn Frazier, 61, reinforces tarps over his Tampa home’s roof in preparation for the storm

Several attractions in the Tampa Bay-area were already close on Tuesday, with Busch Gardens theme park closing at 4 p.m. and the Tampa International Airport suspending its commercial operations at 5 p.m., with a plan to shut down its air cargo operations by 10 p.m. due to the high winds.  

Schools such as the University of Florida and the University of South Florida, meanwhile, have announced closures or a switch to remote learning during the storm.

The Florida Department of Transportation has announced that it would temporarily suspend operations on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which connects Tampa with St. Petersburg, if wind speeds were to exceed 40 miles per hour. 

But the fifth game of the Stanley Cup finals between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, set for Wednesday night, will take place, Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said. The Lightning lead the NHL´s championship series 3-1 and could clinch the title with a victory. 

Dark skies could be seen looming over the Florida beach, as Elsa was about to make landfall

Dead fish are seen at Bay Vista Park in St. Petersburg, Florida, on Tuesday

More than 200 National Guardsmen were on standby to assist with the state’s response to the hurricane, state officials have said, and Florida Power and Light said it has activated its emergency response team.

Duke Energy, the main electric utility in the Tampa Bay area, meanwhile, said in a statement it has about 3,000 employees, contractors, tree specialists and support personnel ready to respond to power outages in the storm´s aftermath. Additional crews are being brought in from other states served by Duke Energy. 

‘We´re trained and prepared, and we want to ensure our customers are safe and prepared for any impacts from the storm,’ said Todd Fountain, the utility´s Florida storm director.

In total, there are more than 8,000 electrical workers prepared to deal with the storm, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez told the Weather Channel.

Eight more victims were pulled out of the rubble on Tuesday, bringing the death toll to 36 people as of Tuesday afternoon

The building was completely demolished on Sunday evening ahead of Hurricane Elsa making landfall

Search and rescue teams continued to work in the rubble at the site of the collapsed tower amid high winds and heavy rain Tuesday night

Search and rescue crews sifted through tons of debris, mangled steel, and concrete in hopes of finding survivors

The storm has already battered parts of the Florida Keys.

Key West had sustained wind speeds of 43 mph, with gusts reaching 59 mph, according to Yale Climate Connections, and Sand Key, located west of Key West, reported sustained winds of 53 mph, gusting up to 63.

Elsa has already killed three people – one in St. Lucie and two others in the Dominican Republic. 

Still, on the barrier island beach towns along the Gulf Coast, it was largely business as usual with few shutters or plywood boards going up early Tuesday. Free sandbags were being handed out at several locations, and a limited number of storm shelters opened Tuesday morning.

Nancy Brindley, 85, who lives in a seaside house built in 1923, said she has experienced 34 previous tropical cyclones and is not having shutters put on her windows. Her main concern is what will happen to sand on the adjacent beach and the dunes that protect her house and others. She´s staying through the storm.

‘The main concern here is, if it doesn’t speed up and decides to stall, there will be enormous erosion,’ she said.

Pedestrians dash across the intersection of Greene and Duval streets as heavy winds and rain start to his Key West in Florida

New homeowner Breanna Landers, 30, of Brandon, thanks park rangers Elizabeth Peterson and Chad Cash while they load sandbags inside the trunk of her vehicle at a Hillsborough County site to help residents prepare for Hurricane Elsa at Edward Medard Conservation Park in Plant City

Friends Chris Wirtz, 47, and Brendan Peregrine, 44, were staying put at a beachfront inn with their families. Both are from Tampa, about 25 miles across the bay and have been through storms many times.

‘Before we left, we knew it was coming,’ Wirtz said.

Others were taking no chances. Annie Jones, 51, has lived along the Gulf Coast her entire life. She was buying ice and food at a local grocery store in advance of the storm.

‘I’ve seen this happen over the years and I decided to load up,’ Jones said.

Hurricane Elsa is expected to make landfall in Tampa early Wednesday morning, before moving up the coastline

The Tampa Bay-area remained under a hurricane warning Tuesday night, with cities from Fort Myers all the way up to Charleston, South Carolina under a Tropical Storm Warning

The winds were already picking up on the western coast of Florida Tuesday night as the hurricane remained at sea

Bands of rain reached Surfside on Florida’s Atlantic coast, soaking the rubble of the Champlain Towers South, which collapsed June 24, killing at least 36 people. Search and rescue crews have worked through rain in search of more than 100 others unaccounted for, although lightning forced rescuers to pause their work for two hours early Tuesday, officials said.

Elsa’s maximum sustained winds stood at 75 mph Tuesday evening. Its core was about 155 miles south-southwest of Tampa. It was continuing to move to the north at 10 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

After Florida, forecasters predicted Elsa would hit coastal Georgia and South Carolina, portions of which were under a tropical storm watch.

Elsa’s westward shift spared the lower Florida Keys a direct hit, but the islands were still getting plenty of rain and wind Tuesday.

Cuban officials evacuated 180,000 people against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

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