- Some tourist attractions and airports closed Tuesday.
- Florida emergency management director says residents should prepare for extended outages.
- Weather was challenging rescuers at the collapsed South Florida condominium site.
- State of emergency declared in Georgia.
Tourist attractions, schools, government offices and airports closed and shelters opened in several Florida counties as Elsa churned across the Florida Keys and headed up the state’s Gulf Coast Tuesday, and a state of emergency was declared in Georgia ahead of the storm’s potential impacts there.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed an emergency declaration Tuesday night that covers more than half of the state’s counties.
Elsa, upgraded to a hurricane Tuesday night, brought rain and wind to the Keys and Southwest Florida as it moved further into the Gulf. While no mandatory evacuation orders were issued, several counties opened or planned to open shelters, including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Citrus, all in the Tampa Bay area. Voluntary evacuations were advised in some areas, mostly for people who felt unsafe in their homes or rely on electricity for medical needs.
Tampa’s Busch Gardens closed at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Campuses including the University of South Florida and the University of Florida announced closures or a switch to remote learning.
Gov. Ron DeSantis extended a prior emergency declaration to include 33 counties. The state’s Emergency Operations Center was activated to 24-hour status, DeSantis said at a news briefing Tuesday night.
He warned residents to remain vigilant through at least Wednesday morning.
“The roads will be dangerous as this storm passes through. In some ways this is fortunate it’s going to be in the wee hours of the night,” DeSantis said. “There probably won’t be a lot of traffic on the roads in places like Tampa Bay.”
(MORE: The Latest Forecast for Elsa)
Kevin Guthrie, director of emergency management for the state, said property damage should be documented as soon as possible, especially flooding that could recede quickly.
“The best thing you can do as a homeowner is to go out and photograph that damage. Make sure you take photos before you start cleaning up,” Guthrie said. “Especially if you have any type of flooding. It’s very important to (capture) those high water marks, flood marks on your homes and then take those pictures very, very quickly.”
Elsa also made search and rescue efforts more difficult at the site of the Champlain Towers South condo collapse in Surfside, Florida.
Crews were forced to stop work for two hours Tuesday due to lightning and wind gusts above 30 mph, Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said in an evening update.
“Through rain and through the wind, they have continued searching,” Levine Cava said at an earlier briefing Tuesday. “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 demolition was expedited due to Elsa’s approach.
The confirmed death toll from the collapse was 36 as of Tuesday evening. More than 100 remained unaccounted for. No one has been rescued alive since the first hours after the collapse.
(MORE: Track Elsa Here)
Tampa International Airport suspended commercial operations at 5 p.m. Tuesday and planned to shut down 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.
DeSantis said in an interview with The Weather Channel Tuesday morning that he didn’t anticipate widespread evacuations in because of Elsa.
He added: “There will definitely be significant impacts from this.”
At an earlier news briefing Tuesday, Guthrie said 200 to 250 National Guardsmen are on standby to assist with the state’s response to Elsa.
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.
In all, more than 8,000 electrical workers were on standby, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nunez said.
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.
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 called 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.
(MORE: The 2021 Atlantic Hurricane Season Pace Is Already Faster Than 2020)
Two shelters were opened in Pinellas County and one was opened in Hillsborough County, even though no evacuations were ordered in those counties, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
“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.
“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,” Manatee County Public Safety Director Jacob Saur said, according to WTVT.
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.
Florida Department of Transportation officials told WFLA the Sunshine Skyway Bridge would be closed temporarily if winds hit or exceed 40 mph.
The U.S. Coast Guard 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.
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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