Florida on alert for Elsa, storm complicating search for collapse victims

Miami, Jul 6 (EFE).- The Florida Keys and the state’s western coast are on emergency alert for the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa, the heavy rain and thunderstorms of which are already complicating the work to recover the bodies of victims of the condo building collapse in the Miami area municipality of Surfside.

Elsa, which briefly became the first hurricane of the 2021 Atlantic storm season before weakening again to a tropical storm, could once again get over the threshold to hurricane status before it makes landfall at some point on the northern portion of Florida’s western coast on Wednesday, as the Miami-based National Hurricane Center has predicted.

This will not be the first named storm to make landfall in the United States this year. Claudette hit Alabama in June, killing 10 people in associated accidents, and Danny hit South Carolina, fortunately without taking any lives or causing significant damage.

Twenty-two of Florida’s 67 counties have been put on emergency alert but, as Gov. Ron DeSantis said, those in the storm trajectory cone may not be the only ones to suffer from Elsa.

The emergency zone lies along the Gulf of Mexico, where warm waters – 84 degrees F (22.8 C) on Tuesday in Sarasota, for instance – are acting as fuel for the storm.

In Miami-Dade County, on the southeastern coast, Elsa’s outer rain bands, along with electrical activity, have forced emergency teams to pause their work amid the ruins of the Champlain Towers South condo complex, part of which collapsed on June 24 and the rest of which was demolished by local authorities on July 4 due to the risk that it might collapse, too.

According to Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, on Tuesday the confirmed death toll in the June 24 partial collapse of the 12-story building stands at 36, with 113 additional people remaining missing.

A number of bodies have been removed from the ruins since Monday afternoon.

The Florida Keys will not be hit directly by the storm but the low-lying island chain is already feeling the effects of high winds, heavy rain and storm surge.

In Key West, an international tourist destination, public transport has been suspended since Monday, public offices and schools were closed on Tuesday and there will be no trash pickup, the local city hall reported.

Stores, however, will remain open, at least for now.

One Key West resident, quoted by local media, said that the public has gotten through hurricanes like the devastating and deadly Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and “it’s only rain.”

The Key West airport has not announced any change in its traffic schedule but it did confirm that a number of flights have been cancelled.

The Tampa airport, however, will close starting on Tuesday afternoon, given that the west-central Florida coastal city is right in the storm track.

The area from Egmont Key in Tampa Bay to the mouth of the Steinhatchee River further north on Florida’s west coast has been designated as the area where significant storm effects are likely.

According to the NHC, at 11 am the center of Elsa, which on Tuesday morning left Cuba and moved northwestward near the westernmost Keys, was located 215 miles (345 km) south of Tampa.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds were reported at 60 mph (95 kph) and extend out 70 miles (110 km) from the center.

Elsa is moving at 10 mph (17 kph) to the north-northwest and will continue in that direction until Wednesday when it will shift to the north-northeast.

On Wednesday morning, Elsa is predicted to make landfall and then later, as a weaker system, will turn toward the northeast, crossing Georgia and South Carolina on Thursday before it moves out over the Atlantic.

On Tuesday morning, DeSantis urged the public to be prepared for the storm and to keep informed about the situation to be sure to note any changes.

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