Tropical Storm Elsa hits Florida but weakened winds limit damage

A weakened Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall in Florida on Wednesday and dumped rain across Florida’s Gulf coast but it appears to have spared the state significant damage and widespread power outages.

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

Heavy rain and gusty winds are expected across northern Florida and some flooding is also expected in the region, where the ground is already saturated from heavy rain late last week.

Governor Ron DeSantis said at a morning news conference that no major structural damage or deaths from the storm had been reported.

“Clearly, this could have been worse,” the Republican governor said, adding that many storm-related deaths come after the system passes. “Be very careful when you’re working to clear debris,” he said.

DeSantis said up to 26,000 customers were without power in the region, most of them in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties that surround Tampa Bay. Crews were working to restore electricity and DeSantis said no hospitals reported an outage, which has been a major problem in past storms.

Elsa’s maximum sustained winds stood at 65mph (100km/h), the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said in its 8am EDT advisory.

Earlier on 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 24 June. Despite that challenge, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, on the state’s south-east coast.

Elsa was forecast to cross from Florida into south-east Georgia on Wednesday afternoon, and the National Hurricane Center issued a tropical storm warning for the state’s entire 100-mile coast.

Elsa was expected to bring 2-4in of rain to Georgia as it churns to the north-east before entering South Carolina to the west of Savannah early on Thursday.

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.

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