Tropical storm Elsa sweeps through Cuba en route to Florida
Storm claimed three lives in the Caribbean over the weekend
Tropical storm Elsa swept over western Cuba with strong rain and winds on Monday, and forecasters said it would move on to the Florida Keys on Tuesday and Florida's central Gulf Coast by Wednesday.
The storm was moving over mainly rural areas to the east of Havana after making landfall near Cienega de Zapata, a natural park with few inhabitants.
By late afternoon, Elsa's maximum sustained winds had slowed to 85 km/h. Its core was about 75 kilometres southeast of Havana and moving to the northwest at 22 km/h.
Although the capital was expected to miss the brunt of the storm, many people in Havana were staying in place.
"For now, I staying at home. We have to wait for the night and see exactly what happens," Aida Herrera, who lives next to the Malecon boulevard facing the sea, told The Associated Press.
WATCH | Elsa whips through Cuba:
Deaths reported in Caribbean
The storm previously wreaked havoc in parts of Barbados, St. Lucia, Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic and was responsible for at least three deaths.
Elsa was a Category 1 hurricane until Saturday morning, causing widespread damage on several eastern Caribbean islands on Friday as the first hurricane of the Atlantic season.
The storm caused the death of one person on St. Lucia and was responsible for the deaths of a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman in separate events in the Dominican Republic.
By Sunday, Cuban officials had evacuated 180,000 people as a precaution against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that had already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.
Most evacuees stayed at relatives' homes, while others went to government shelters, and hundreds living in mountainous areas took refuge in caves prepared for emergencies.
"We continue with maximum attention focused on the track of storm Elsa through Cuba," President Miguel Diaz-Canel tweeted early in the morning. "Authorities are working all over the country."
Storm en route to Florida
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm was expected to move back over the sea by Monday night and then head for Florida.
Tropical storm warnings were posted for the Florida Keys from Craig Key westward to the Dry Tortugas and for the west coast of Florida from Flamingo northward to the Ochlockonee River.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 15 counties, including Miami-Dade County, where a high-rise condominium building collapsed on June 24.
The NHC said up to 10 centimetres of rain with localized maximum amounts of up to 15 centimetres were expected across Florida and coastal Georgia through Wednesday, which might trigger isolated flash, urban and minor river flooding.
A few tornadoes were possible across south Florida on Monday night and across the Florida peninsula on Tuesday, the agency said.
In Seminole, Fla., residents filled sand bags and placed them outside their homes to prevent flooding.
"If we have a lot of water … and I wait till later to get sand bags there won't be any left, and then I will have a wet bedroom," said Wendy Schultz, adding she would stock them anyway for the rest of the season "'cause, you know, it's Florida."
Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record and also broke the record as the fastest-moving hurricane in the tropics, according to Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
With files from Reuters