Florida braces for potentially life-threatening storm surge ahead of Tropical Storm Elsa

The storm has prompted Tropical Storm Warnings and coastal flood advisories along parts of Florida’s west coast.

Search and rescue teams working at the site of the deadly building collapse in Surfside, Florida, are keeping an eye on the storm after its approach prompted the demolition of the remaining portion of the Champlain Towers South condo building.

Others in southern Florida are preparing by filling sand bags, opening shelters, closing businesses and schools, and activating local emergency operations centers.

Governor Ron DeSantis expanded a state of emergency Monday to cover 26 counties. President Joe Biden approved an Emergency Declaration for the state ahead of the storm.

The declaration, which began Sunday, authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in southern Florida.

Elsa — which briefly reached hurricane strength Friday to become the first hurricane of the season — is now in the Florida Straits after making landfall in Cuba Monday and tearing through the Cayman Islands, saturating both areas with heavy rain and strong winds, causing landslides and flooding.
The storm has gained strength after exiting Cuba and is now packing maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. The National Hurricane Center said there’s a danger of life-threatening storm surge for parts of Florida’s west coast Tuesday night and Wednesday.

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for the Florida Keys from Craig Key to the Dry Tortugas, and along the state’s west coast, from Flamingo, in the Everglades, northward to the Ochlockonee River, according to the NHC.

Authorities across the state have offered free sandbags to residents to help prevent flooding and are encouraging people to prepare for the storm by stocking up on supplies and listening to any local warnings.

“You want to be prepared for anything,” a Pinellas County Emergency Operations Center employee told CNN affiliate WFTS. “You really never know.”

The center opened after the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners declared a State of Local Emergency for Tropical Storm Elsa Sunday.

“We’ve had other storms in the past that seemed like nothing but they end up with a lot of flood damage,” the emergency official warned.

Residents and businesses prepare

At least four counties in the Tampa area — Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando and Manatee — are opening shelters for residents while others have activated their emergency operations centers to prepare for the storm.

A voluntary evacuation order has also been issued for parts of Hernando County.

On Monday, people lined up in both Manatee and Hillsborough counties to fill and free sandbags to help prevent flooding.

Tropical Storm Elsa's forecast track.
One new Florida resident told WFTS she’s never been in a tropical storm.

“This is our first experience. We got the notification that we could get sandbags and we’re right on some water so we just want to do everything that we can at this point,” the woman said.

Even some businesses are closing ahead of the storm.

Niall Bowen, owner of Old Town Bakery in Key West told CNN affiliate WSVN he will close Tuesday because the storm will impact his supply chain and deliveries.

“As far as the impact goes, I don’t think we’re going to have a major weather event,” Bowen said.

Storm will bring danger of life-threatening surge

The effects of the storm are already being felt in parts of the state as Elsa moves north-northwest, dropping heavy rain in the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas. Three to five inches are expected, with up to eight inches possible in some locations.

Conditions will continue to deteriorate in southern Florida through Tuesday as a storm surge of up to three feet and heavy rains combine, exacerbating the potential for flooding. Isolated tornadoes are also possible.

Tropical storm surge is expected up and down the western Florida coast.

Storm surge warnings are in place for the west coast of Florida from Bonita Beach through the northern portions of the Big Bend region, with the highest surge expected to be between three and five feet from Englewood to the outlet for the Aucilla River.

This area of Florida is susceptible to the effects of storm surge due to the shape of the coastline and the shallow waters just offshore.

The threat of tornadoes continues through Tuesday night as the storm moves north traveling parallel to the coast before turning toward the northeast ahead of anticipated landfall late Wednesday morning in the Big Bend.

Tropical moisture and high surf will accompany the system.

Cuba is still getting heavy rainfall from Elsa, which will continue through Tuesday morning. Rainfall amounts of five to ten inches are expected, with isolated regions getting up to 15 inches, resulting in significant flash flooding and mudslides.

Tropical Storm Elsa battered parts of the Dominican Republic and Haiti with heavy rain and high winds Saturday

The Cayman Islands could also receive an additional one to three inches, resulting in scattered flash flooding.

The current forecast following landfall in Florida has the storm moving to the northeast across the lowlands of Georgia and the Carolinas, where it could produce tropical storm conditions, before exiting into the Atlantic. Heavy rains could produce flash flooding across the Florida peninsula into southeast Georgia through the coming week.

The heavy rain will pose a flash flood threat for the coastal regions as well as tornado risk. Once in the Atlantic, Elsa will continue to be a rainmaker for the extreme eastern seaboard until it pushes into the north Atlantic.

CNN’s Tina Burnside contributed to this report.

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