The tropical storm On Tuesday, Elsa was already bringing rain and winds to the Florida Keys, as much of the state braced for the storm’s rapid path along the Gulf Coast. Officials in at least one Florida county have issued a voluntary evacuation order, primarily due to flooding concerns.
As it moved across the Caribbean over the weekend, the storm killed three people, one in St. Lucia and two in the Dominican Republic. On Monday, Elsa flew over western Cuba.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for parts of Florida’s west coast, from Flamingo to the Ochlockonee River, as well as the Florida Keys. A hurricane watch is in effect from Egmont Key in Tampa Bay’s mouth to the Steinhatchee River in the Big Bend area. The Tampa Bay area is under a storm surge warning that extends from Bonita Beach to the Aucilla River.
Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in the following counties: Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Pasco, Pinellas, and Sarasota.
People should prepare for extended power outages, according to Kevin Guthrie, the state’s emergency management director, especially in areas with a lot of trees that could be blown down by the wind. Duke Energy stated that power utility crews are ready to assist in restoring power as soon as it is safe to do so. Florida Power & Light has activated its emergency response plan and has 6,000 workers ready to respond, according to the company.
In the event of a power outage, DeSantis reminded residents to follow proper generator safety precautions.
On Monday morning, Hernando County officials declared a local state of emergency and ordered voluntary evacuations in Zone A and mobile homes, as well as low-lying and flood-prone areas throughout the county. On Tuesday morning, a shelter was to open. The Pinellas County Commission met on Sunday to declare a local state of emergency. Flooding, according to officials, could be a problem.
Officials advised newcomers to the area to become acquainted with evacuation and flood risk zones. Officials in Hillsborough and Manatee counties declared local states of emergency as well. In preparation for Elsa’s arrival, a number of local governments in the Tampa Bay area set up sandbag stations. According to a tweet from the city of Tampa, workers were preparing for the storm by lowering levels in retention ponds to help prevent flooding. The ground in the Tampa Bay area has already become saturated as a result of recent heavy rains. Officials with the Florida Department of Transportation told WFLA that if winds reached or exceeded 40 mph, the Sunshine Skyway Bridge would be temporarily closed.
Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi stated that mandatory evacuations were not anticipated, but that voluntary evacuations of mobile homes and live-aboard vessels would be advised for Monday and Tuesday. Visitors, as well as those in RVs and travel trailers, are encouraged to plan ahead of time for those two days in order to avoid traffic jams.
Emergency personnel in Miami-Dade County were checking in with special needs individuals who may need to be transported to hospitals if they rely on electricity for medical needs. Frank Rollason, Director of Emergency Management, told weather.com that he did not expect to open evacuation centers. “We will continue to monitor the storm and adjust our plans as necessary,” he said.
The US Coast Guard advised pleasure craft to seek safe harbor, and large ocean-going ships and barges of certain sizes to leave the ports of Miami and Key West.
Aircraft based at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa were being flown to a safe location outside the storm’s path, according to a Facebook update posted Sunday morning. Non-essential personnel were instructed not to report for duty on Tuesday. The storm is approaching during one of the busiest travel seasons of the year, and travel volume is returning to pre-pandemic levels.
Miami-Dade International Airport officials advised passengers to closely monitor flight status via their airlines. Officials at Tampa International Airport said they were also keeping a close eye on Elsa’s progress.
On Sunday night, President Joe Biden signed an emergency declaration for the state of Florida, releasing federal resources for storm preparation and response.
Elsa is the fifth named storm in the Atlantic and the first hurricane of the 2021 season. It is the Atlantic’s first E-named storm on record.