- A hurricane warning is in effect for part of Florida’s west coast, including the Tampa Bay area.
- Florida emergency management director says residents should prepare for extended outages.
- Florida’s governor declared a state of emergency in 27 counties.
- Voluntary evacuations were issued for parts of Hernando County.
A strengthening Tropical Storm Elsa was already bringing rain and winds to the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida on Tuesday as much of the state hunkered down for the storm’s rapid trek along the Gulf Coast.
Officials in at least two Florida counties, Citrus and Hernando, have issued voluntary evacuation orders.
Tampa International Airport announced it would suspend commercial operations at 5 p.m. Tuesday and air cargo operations by 10 p.m. because of the anticipated high winds from Elsa. The airport planned to resume operations at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Sarasota Bradenton International Airport announced it would close at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday and planned to reopen at 6 a.m. Wednesday.
“All travelers should check with their airlines for the most up-to-date flight schedules over the next two to three days,” the airport said in a statement.
The storm killed three people, one in St. Lucia and two in the Dominican Republic, as it moved across the Caribbean over the weekend. Elsa crossed over western Cuba on Monday.
Elsa’s outer bands were also making search and rescue efforts more difficult at the site of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside, Florida. Crews must stop every time lightning threatens.
“Through rain and through the wind, they have continued searching,” Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said. “We now have our weather service embedded within our search and rescue teams to work closely to track any changes that could impact the work to ensure the safety of our first responders.”
On Sunday, the part of the building that was left standing after the collapse on June 24 was demolished with explosives. That allowed rescuers to reach parts of the site that had been inaccessible.
The confirmed death toll from the collapse stands at 32; more than 110 people are still unaccounted for. No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse.
(MORE: The Latest Forecast for Elsa)
A hurricane warning was issued from Egmont Key in the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River in the Big Bend area after sustained winds reached 70 mph Tuesday afternoon. A tropical storm warning from Flamingo, at the tip of the Florida peninsula, to south of Egmont Key and north of the Steinhatchee River to the Ochlockonee River, which is south of Tallahassee. A storm surge warning is in effect from Bonita Beach to the Aucilla River, including Tampa Bay.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 27 counties: Alachua, Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, Columbia, Dixie, Franklin, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Hillsborough, Jefferson, Lake, Lafayette, Lee, Levy, Madison, Manatee, Marion, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Sumter, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla.
“We’re looking at impacts, maybe around Florida’s Nature Coast…. It’s a very lopsided storm to the east, so there’s going to be a lot of bands to the east of the eye of the storm. Floridians should be prepared for that,” DeSantis said on The Weather Channel on Tuesday morning.
He added that he didn’t anticipate widespread evacuations in the state.
“One of the things that we’re concerned about is, yes this is a strong tropical storm, maybe it will reach hurricane strength in terms of the wind, but we’ve, particularly north of I-4 in our state, been inundated with rain over the last couple of weeks. So you have a very soggy northern part of the state that’s going to receive Elsa. We’re anticipating that interaction with some of the trees and losing power. There will definitely be significant impacts from this,” DeSantis said.
At a news briefing Tuesday, Kevin Guthrie, the state’s emergency management director, said 200 to 250 National Guardsmen are on standby to assist with the state’s response to Elsa.
Earlier this week, Guthrie said people should prepare for extended power outages, especially in areas where there are lots of trees that could be brought down by the wind.
Duke Energy said power utility crews are staged and ready to help restore power as soon as it is safe to do so. Florida Power & Light said it has activated its emergency response plan.
More than 8,000 electrical workers are on standby, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said in a briefing Tuesday morning in Miami-Dade County.
Nunez told residents across the state to be prepared to be without power for a few days and to heed the advice of local officials.
“If you are asked to evacuate, please leave,” Nunez said.
In Levy County, officials urged residents to wrap up storm preparations early Tuesday.
“The biggest thing we want people to do is to understand that they still got a little time. They need to make sure that they finish those preparations,” David Peaton, assistant director of Levy County Emergency Management, told WCJB.
“People in Cedar Key obviously need to worry about the storm surge and the wind. We need to remember, especially in a county like Levy County, we are very rural there is a lot of trees, there is a lot of vegetation,” Peaton said.
In neighboring Dixie County, Mandy Lemmermen with Dixie County Emergency Services said coastal flooding is a concern there.
“A lot of our guys that are down there in camper trailers and stuff know to move up to higher ground. Most of our structures are elevated down there,” Lemmermen told WCJB.
(MORE: Track Elsa Here)
Hernando County officials declared a local state of emergency on Monday morning and called for voluntary evacuations in Zone A and mobile homes, low-lying and flood-prone areas countywide. A shelter was to be opened on Tuesday morning.
Citrus County officials callled for voluntary evacuations on the west side of U.S. Highway 19. Two shelters were expected to open by 6 p.m. Tuesday, WFLA reported.
Two shelters were opened in Pinellas County and one was opened in Hillsborough County, even though no evacations were ordered in those counties, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The Pinellas County Commission held an emergency meeting Sunday to declare a local state of emergency. Officials warned that flooding could be a problem.
“We’ve been already messaging out some of the low-lying areas where we already know some of the residents have problems with flooding,” Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said, according to WFLA. “So we’re making sure we are telling them to take precautions.”
Beginning at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Pinellas County bridges from Dunedin to Pass-a-Grille Beach will be restricted access, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a briefing, according to WTSP. Authorities plan to reopen the bridges at 7 a.m. Wednesday.
Officials advised those who are new to the area to familiarize themselves with evacuation and flood risk zones.
Hillsborough County and Manatee County officials also declared local states of emergency.
“It’s important for the public to monitor the storm and prepare for a possible tropical storm impacting our area,” Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur said, according to WTVT. “This will largely be a rain event but as the ground is already saturated, trees can easily topple from the winds produced by tropical storms in our area.”
A handful of local governments in the Tampa Bay area opened sandbag stations in anticipation of Elsa’s arrival.
“Flooding Is always a concern for us. Historically, once we get saturated like a wet sponge is when we get a tropical storm or a hurricane,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told The Weather Channel on Tuesday. “So we are prepared in the city. We’ve been letting the water out, cleaning ditches, emptying retention ponds, doing everything we can to ensure that the water Elsa brings us will have some place to go.”
Several school districts planned to cancel summer school classes and close offices on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to WTSP.
(MORE: The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Pace Is Already Faster Than 2020)
Florida Department of Transportation officials told WFLA the Sunshine Skyway Bridge would be closed temporarily if winds hit or exceed 40 mph.
In Monroe County, which encompasses the Florida Keys, residents and visitors in campgrounds, recreational vehicles, travel trailers, live-aboard vessels and mobile homes were asked to either leave the Keys by sunset Monday or prepare to shelter in place in a safe structure through the duration of the storm.
Aircraft based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa were being flown to a safe location outside the storm’s reach, officials there said in an update posted on Facebook Sunday morning. All non-essential personnel were told not to report for duty on Tuesday.
The U.S. Coast Guard has set port condition Zulu for the ports of Tampa, St. Petersburg, Manatee, and Fort Myers because of the high winds expected from Elsa. Beginning at midnight Tuesday, no vessels may enter or transit within these ports without permission of the captain of the port.
The storm is approaching during what is typically one of the busiest travel times of the year, and as travel volume returns to pre-pandemic levels.
Officials at Miami-Dade International Airport advised passengers to closely monitor flight status through their airlines.
On Sunday night, President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state of Florida in order to make federal resources available for storm preparation and emergency response.
Elsa is the fifth named Atlantic storm and first hurricane of the 2021 season. It is the earliest E-named storm on record in the Atlantic.
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