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Florida spared major damage, Tropical Storm Elsa weakens


Floridians are breathing a bit easier as Elsa loses her strength. The once expected hurricane has now been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Elsa crosses north Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — A weakened Tropical Storm Elsa dumped rain along a long stretch of Florida’s Gulf Coast early Wednesday but appears to have spared the state significant damage and power outages.

Determined visitors head for Sloppy Joe’s Bar while crossing a flooded Duval Street as heavy winds and rain pass over Key West, Fla., Tuesday, July 6, 2021. The weather was getting worse in southern Florida on Tuesday morning as Tropical Storm Elsa began lashing the Florida Keys, complicating the search for survivors in the condo collapse and prompting a hurricane watch for the peninsula’s upper Gulf Coast. (Rob O’Neal/The Key West Citizen via AP)

Elsa wobbled through the Gulf of Mexico, briefly reaching hurricane strength, but was expected to move ashore as a tropical storm. Tornado warnings were issued in several northern Florida counties, including the Gainesville area, on Wednesday morning. Heavy rain and gusty winds are expected across northern Florida once the storm makes an expected turn to the northeast. Some flooding is also expected in the region, where the ground is already saturated from heavy rain late last week.

Jonathan Hines, left, catches a sandbag tossed by Jovan Williams, both with the City of St. Petersburg Stormwater Department, as they work along with 15-20 other employees to load up cars at the sandbag distribution site in the parking lot of the James “JC” Turner Fields,Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in St. Petersburg, Fla. (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Tropical storm warnings were canceled for Cape Coral and Fort Myers. Further north, the Tampa Bay metropolitan area — while wet and windy — appears to have emerged mostly unscathed. Tampa was no longer under a hurricane warning, but weather forecasters warned of tropical storm conditions, including strong winds and flash flooding. The two electric utilities that serve the region, Duke Energy and TECO Energy, reported that just under 5,000 customers were without power at 7 a.m.

“We’re fortunate to see minimal damage & flooding this morning, but it’s important to keep safety top of mind. Be aware of your surroundings & don’t drive through flood waters,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said via Twitter.

John Jelkl, 71, has his wheel chair loaded down with sandbags as he leaves the sandbagging site in the parking lot of the James “JC” Turner Fields,Tuesday, July 6, 2021 in St. Petersburg, Fla. Pictured in the background, on left, are cars waiting in line for sandbags. “I stay in a place that is low,” Jelkl said. “I gotta put down sandbags so water won’t get in.” (Dirk Shadd/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

The storm was moving northward, almost parallel to the west coast of the state, according to forecasters.

Elsa’s maximum sustained winds stood at 65 mph (100 kph), the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its 5 a.m. EDT advisory. Its core was about 50 miles (75 kilometers) south-southwest of Cedar Key. It was moving north at 14 mph (22 kmh).

Schools and government offices in the Tampa area were closed and most public events postponed as Elsa approached Tuesday. Castor, however, predicted hockey’s Stanley Cup finals game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens would be played as scheduled Wednesday night.

About 250 electrical utility trucks are lined up at Duke Energy’s staging location in The Villages of Sumter County on Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Elsa may hit central Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday, with possible localized flooding. Duke Energy staged a total of about 500 trucks at the location, and they will be deployed following Elsa to repair damage to electrical lines and poles. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Tampa International Airport suspended operations at 5 p.m. Tuesday and planned to resume flights at 10 a.m. Wednesday following a check for any storm damage, according to its website.

Earlier Tuesday, Elsa swept past the Florida Keys but spared the low-lying island chain a direct hit.

The storm also complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium on June 24. Despite that challenge, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, on the state’s southeast coast.

Looking north at the neighborhood of Paradise Island on Treasure Island, Fla., outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa brings a downpour of rain over the area on Tuesday afternoon, July 6, 2021. Elsa is expected to impact the Tampa Bay area the heaviest during the predawn hours of Wednesday morning. (Marc Topkin/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Forecasters said Elsa would slice across inland north Florida as a tropical storm with strong rains and wind, then move on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia before heading out in the Atlantic Ocean by Friday. A tropical storm watch was in effect early Wednesday for the coasts of North Carolina and Virginia from Duck, North Carolina to Chincoteague, Virginia, and for the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.

In Georgia, a tropical storm warning was posted along the portion of the coast of Brunswick, with the National Hurricane Center saying tropical storm conditions with sustained winds of up to 50 mph (80 kph) are expected in parts of southeast Georgia.

“Right now, we’re basically looking at a cloudy, rainy and windy day,” Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Alec Eaton told the Brunswick News on Tuesday. “I feel confident we can sit down and let it pass over us without any major impacts. Hopefully.”

Photographers take pictures of the sky full of clouds after the passage of Tropical Storm Elsa, in Havana, Cuba, Monday, July 5, 2021. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

To the north in South Carolina, emergency officials were watching Elsa, but no evacuations were ordered during the peak summer beach tourism season. The storm was expected to track inland, but coastal forecasters noted the worst weather was on the east side of the storm and could dump up to 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain and bring wind gusts up to 55 mph (88 kph) in places like Hilton Head Island, Charleston and Myrtle Beach.

Earlier, 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.

Associated Press writers Jeff Amy in Atlanta, Freida Frisaro in Fort Lauderdale and Jeffrey Collins in Columbia, South Carolina contributed to this story.


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