Tropical Storm Elsa strengthened late Sunday and is expected to make landfall in Cuba on Monday before it nears the Florida Keys.
The 11 p.m. advisory from the National Hurricane Center has Elsa’s winds at 65 mph. It is located about 165 miles west of Cayo Largo, Cuba, and heading northwest at 15 mph.
Miami-Dade and Broward counties are out of the cone of concern for major impacts from Elsa, while a tropical storm warning has been issued for the Florida Keys from Craig Key west to the Dry Tortugas.
A tropical storm watch was issued for part of the west coast, including Fort Myers, Sarasota and the Tampa Bay area. A storm surge watch is also in effect from Bonita Beach northward to the Suwannee River, including Tampa Bay.
The center of Elsa is forecast to approach south-central Cuba by late Sunday and make landfall on Monday afternoon. It's then expected to head toward the Florida Straits on Monday and pass near the Florida Keys early Tuesday. Elsa is then forecast to move near or over portions of the west coast of Florida on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"These tracks can change, but this is what we're looking at now - something riding up the west coast of the state," Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference Sunday in Miami
A hurricane warning is in effect for the Cuban provinces of Cienfuegos and Matanzas. A hurricane watch is in effect for the province of Camaguey.
A tropical storm warning is also in effect for portions of the coastline of Haiti as well as the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos, Matanzas, Mayabeque, and Havana.
A tropical storm watch is in effect for the Cayman Islands, the Cuban province of Artemisa along with portions of the Florida Keys from Craig Key east to Ocean Reef, Florida Bay and the southwest coast of Florida from Flamingo to Bonita Beach.
Elsa prompted Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in 15 Florida counties: Miami-Dade, Monroe, Charlotte, Citrus, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Sarasota.
"The threat posed by Elsa requires that timely precautions are taken to protect the communities, critical infrastructure, and general welfare of Florida," DeSantis' executive order reads.
Both Monroe and Miami-Dade counties declared their own state of local emergencies due to the potential effects from Tropical Storm Elsa on Saturday.
"There still is a lot of uncertainty about the path, but we are continuing to monitor closely and if there are any potential impacts to Miami-Dade we are ready," Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said during a Saturday news conference.
Mandatory evacuations in Monroe County are not expected for this storm.
“The last thing we want is a lot of people leaving the Florida Keys on Monday at 11 a.m.,” Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi said. “We hope visitors will consider extending their stay through Wednesday, when we are expecting normal summertime conditions to resume, or to leave earlier on Monday to avoid traffic issues in the Upper Keys we normally see after busy holiday weekends.”
County officials say they are aware that while Miami-Dade and Broward counties may not be affected directly be Elsa, potential flooding could still be a concern.
"For many years, we've had a great relationship with them (South Florida Water Management) in making sure we don't have an abundance of water in these canal systems," Miami-Dade Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said Sunday. "We are able to make sure water is expedited in the fastest process when a storm is approaching."
Elsa battered the southern coast of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on Saturday, downing trees and blowing off roofs as it sped through the Caribbean, killing at least three people.
One death was reported 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.
The deaths come a day after Elsa caused widespread damage in several eastern Caribbean islands as a Category 1 hurricane, the first 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.
Dozens of trees and power lines lay strewn across Barbados, where several schools and government buildings were damaged and hundreds of customers were still without power on Saturday, according to officials.
“This is a hurricane that has hit us for the first time in 66 years,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Saturday. “There is no doubt this is urgent.”
Barbados suspended classes until Wednesday and expected to reopen its international airport on Sunday.
Downed trees also were reported in Haiti, where authorities used social media to alert people about the storm and urged them to evacuate if they lived near water or mountain flanks.
“The whole country is threatened,” the Civil Protection Agency said in a statement. “Make every effort to escape before it’s too late.”
Haiti is especially vulnerable to floods and landslides because of widespread erosion and deforestation. In addition, a recent spike in gang violence has forced thousands of people to flee from their homes, so the civil protection agency is running low on basic items including food and water, director Jerry Chandler told The Associated Press.
“It's been three weeks that we've been supporting families who are running away from gang violence,” he said. “We are working at renewing our stocks, but the biggest problem is logistics.”
He said officials are still trying to figure out how to deliver supplies to Haiti's southern region, which braced for Elsa's impact.
As the storm approached, people kept buying food and water.
“I'm protecting myself the best that I can. Civil protection is not going to do that for me,” said Darlene Jean-Pierre, 35, as she bought six jugs of water along with vegetables and fruit. “I have other worries about the street ... I have to worry about gangs fighting. In addition to this, we have a hurricane."
In the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti, authorities opened more than 2,400 shelters as forecasters warned of heavy rains.
“I have a lot of leaks in my zinc,” said María Ramos. “What are we going to do? Only God knows.”
Meanwhile, officials on Saturday reported at least 43 homes and three police stations damaged in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which also suffered massive volcanic eruptions that began in April.
In St. Lucia, the wind damaged a secondary school, pummeling desks, overturning chairs and sending papers flying after blowing off the roof and siding.
Elsa was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season and the earliest fifth-named storm on record. Elsa also broke the record as the tropic’s fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 31 mph on Saturday morning, according to Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.
It is forecast to drop 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain with maximum totals of 15 inches (38 centimeters) across portions of southern Hispaniola and Jamaica.