Cuba, Florida cast wary eye on tropical storm Elsa


Cuba prepared to evacuate people from the island’s southern region on Sunday amid fears that tropical storm Elsa could unleash heavy flooding after battering several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.

The government opened shelters and moved to protect sugarcane and cocoa crops ahead of the storm, whose next target was Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 15 counties, including in Miami-Dade County where a highrise condominium building collapsed last week.

Elsa was located about 280 kilometres east-southeast of Montego Bay, Jamaica, and was speeding west-northwest at 28 km/h. It had maximum sustained winds of 100 km/h, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The storm killed one person in St. Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died Saturday in separate events in the Dominican Republic after walls collapsed on them, according to a statement from the Emergency Operations Center.

1st hurricane of Atlantic season

Elsa was a Category 1 hurricane up until Saturday morning, causing widespread damage in several eastern Caribbean islands on Friday as the first hurricane of the Atlantic season. Among the hardest hit was Barbados, where more than 1,100 people reported damaged houses, including 62 homes that completely collapsed as the government promised to find and fund temporary housing to avoid clustering people in shelters amid the pandemic.

Downed trees also were reported in Haiti, which is especially vulnerable to floods and landslides because of widespread erosion and deforestation.

Frank Barakat carries his daughter Valentina, 2, through a shopping aisle dedicated to hurricane supplies at a Home Depot store in Miami on Saturday as residents prepare for possible effects of tropical storm Elsa. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/The Associated Press)

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica and from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to the southern border with the Dominican Republic. A hurricane watch was issued for the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Granma, Guantanamo, Holguin, Las Tunas, and Santiago de Cuba. Some of those provinces have reported a high number of COVID-19 infections, raising concerns that the storm could force large groups of people to seek shelter together.

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record and also broke the record as the tropic’s fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 50 km/h on Saturday morning, according to Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.

It is forecast to drop 10 to 20 centimetres of rain with maximum totals of 38 centimetres across portions of southern Hispaniola and Jamaica.

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