Elsa makes landfall in Cuba and forecasted to take aim at Florida

Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall along Cuba’s southern coast Monday afternoon as forecasters said it could then turn toward Florida.

Concern about possible high winds from the approaching storm was the reason officials in Surfside, Florida ordered the demolition of the remaining part of the condominium building that partially collapsed. It was brought down late Sunday night.

President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in Florida because of the storm, making federal aid possible. Governor Ron DeSantis had already declared a state of emergency in 15 counties, including in Miami-Dade, where Surfside is.

Nearly 9 million people in Florida were under tropical storm watches and warnings Monday after forecasters extended the tropical storm watch north along the state’s western coast and the storm warning west along the Panhandle.

Satellite image shows Tropical Storm Elsa just off Cuba early on July 5, 2021. NOAA

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Elsa was “expected to move across central and western Cuba later today and pass near the Florida Keys early Tuesday,” then near or over parts of Florida’s western coast Tuesday and Wednesday.

Five to 10 inches of rain were expected across portions of Cuba on Monday with up to 15 inches in some spots, the hurricane center said, adding that, “This will result in significant flash flooding and mudslides.”

As of 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Elsa’s center was some 85 miles southeast of Havana, scampering northwest at 14 mph. Elsa had maximum sustained winds near 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center, a drop from 65 mph earlier in the day. Forecasters expected  the storm to move across the island over a period of several hours, then into the Florida Straits on Monday evening and past the Florida Keys early Tuesday.

By Sunday, Cuban officials had evacuated 180,000 people as a precaution against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people. Most of those evacuated stayed at relatives’ homes, others went to government shelters, and hundreds living in mountainous areas took refuge in caves prepared for emergencies.

The hurricane center said the storm was likely to gradually weaken while passing over central Cuba but “slight re-strengthening is forecast after Elsa moves over the southeastern Gulf of Mexico.”

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record and also broke the record as the tropic’s fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 31 mph Saturday morning, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.