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Florida bracing for flash flooding, tornadoes, and storm surge


By Madeline Holcombe and Michael Guy, CNN

Tropical Storm Elsa is nearing the southern shores of Cuba, where the warm, shallow water could help it intensify before landfall.

With winds now at 65 mph, Elsa has moved westward, motivating governments to drop advisories for eastern Cuba and Jamaica, according to the National Hurricane Center. But now the Cuban provinces of Matanzas and Cienfuegos are under a hurricane warning, and a hurricane watch has been issued for the province of Camaguey.

Elsa was the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic season and is the third named storm to pose a threat to the US coast.

The storm is expected to drop 5 to 10 inches of rain over much of western and central Cuba, with localized amounts of up to 15 inches possible. Storm surge of up to 5 feet and coastal flooding can be expected along the southern shores, but the amount will vary greatly depending on location, tide and topography.

Cuba’s mountainous terrain puts the country at risk for mudslides, but also means Elsa will likely weaken before exiting the region. Still, the storm is expected to hold together and head into the Florida straits by Monday evening.

Jamaica is expected to see additional rainfall amounts of 2 to 4 inches, making storm totals up to 15 inches in some locations. Scattered flash flooding and mudslides could be significant across the island. The Cayman Islands can expect up to 5 inches of rainfall, which may lead to some areas of flash flooding.

Officials in Surfside, Florida, have been keeping a close eye on the storm as search and rescue teams scour the debris of a collapsed condo building for survivors and remains.

The part of the building still standing was demolished late Sunday night, a move that was hastened by fears that a storm could cause the remains to crumble and put rescue teams at risk.

Elsa’s path toward Florida

Surfside is now out of the forecast cone, thus no direct impacts look likely aside from some rainfall.

Beginning Monday night, tropical storm conditions of winds 39 mph or greater are expected for parts of the Florida Keys, according to CNN meteorolgist Haley Brink.

The storm will begin to shift direction Tuesday, heading toward the north-northeast into the Florida Peninsula. Some restrengthening is possible as it impacts the west coast of Florida with rain, high surf and possible tornadoes.

President Joe Biden has approved an Emergency Declaration for Florida as the storm approaches.

The declaration, which began Sunday, authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in 15 counties in southern Florida.

Tropical storm warnings are in effect up the west coast of Florida, from Flamingo in the Everglades to Englewood, which is north of Fort Myers, and in the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas, according to the NHC.

By the early morning hours of Wednesday, the storm is on track to brush the Pinellas Peninsula and impact the St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay region as a tropical storm. By Wednesday morning, Elsa will likely finally make landfall on the Florida Peninsula north of Tampa Bay, around Cedar Key.

More than 4 inches of rain could fall near parts of the west coast between Monday night and Wednesday. There is also the risk for brief, spin-up tornadoes and strong, gusty winds, which could cause some power outages in addition to up to 4 feet of storm surge, Brink said.

Elsa will then likely head into Georgia and the Carolinas before exiting back into the Atlantic as a tropical depression Thursday afternoon.

Damage and deaths reported in the Caribbean

There was no loss of life or major injuries reported in Barbados after then-Hurricane Elsa passed through Friday, according to Prime Minister Mia Amor Mottley, speaking at a news conference Saturday.

“It could have been far worse, but it was bad enough, and certainly one of the more challenging events we’ve had to deal with in recent times with respect to climate,” the prime minster said.

At least 743 roofs were damaged by the storm, said Kerry Hinds, director of Barbados’ emergency management agency.

Late Saturday, the storm battered parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti with heavy rain and high winds as its center passed to the south.

Two people died in the Dominican Republic as Elsa lashed the Caribbean island on Saturday, the country’s Emergency Operations Center (COE) said.

In separate incidents, heavy winds caused walls to collapse in Bahoruco, killing a 15-year-old, and in Bani, killing a 75-year-old, COE reported.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Jackson Dill, Jason Hanna, Alanne Orjoux, Haley Brink, and Alaa Elassar contributed to this report.

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