- Elsa became the first hurricane of the season last week.
- Elsa’s path will cut across north Florida with heavy rains, winds.
- The storm will move on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia later in the week.
After a slog up the west coast of Florida, Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall around 11 a.m. Wednesday morning in lightly populated Taylor County along the state’s northern Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said.
Forecasters say Elsa’s path will cut across north Florida inland with heavy rains and wind and move on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia before heading out in the Atlantic Ocean by Friday.
Earlier, Key West streets had turned to roaring rivers and Tampa was blasted by high winds and heavy rains as the storm, weakening slightly but still powerful, rolled up Florida’s west coast.
Off the coast of Key West, the Coast Guard and a good Samaritan boat on Tuesday rescued 13 people who were part of a group of 22 that left Cuba on a boat that capsized in waters churned by the storm. Nine people were still missing.
Elsa, downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm, had been moving almost parallel to the west coast of Florida for the past day or so. The storm, centered about 115 miles west-southwest of Jacksonville, was headed north at about 14 mph. It carried sustained winds of up to 65 mph.
Gov. Ron DeSantis said a “wobble” to the west as the storm approached Tampa helped keep damage to a minimum. No fatalities or serious injuries had been reported so far, he said.
“All things considered, where we looked at 72 hours ago, I think the impacts have been less than what we thought would be reasonable,” DeSantis said. “We are fortunate.”
DeSantis said there were up to 26,000 customers without power in the Tampa Bay area, most of them in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties.
Tropical storm warnings were canceled for Cape Coral and Fort Myers. Much of Central Florida remained under a tornado watch as rain bands and severe thunderstorms associated with Elsa move across the state. A few tornadoes remain possible across west-central to north Florida into this afternoon.
Officials at Tampa International Airport suspended operations late Tuesday, forcing the cancelation of about 200 flights, but resumed them at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday after checking for storm damage. Elsa brought gusts of up to 41 mph overnight.
“The Airport did not sustain any damage from the storm,” airport officials said in a statement. “TPA’s roadways are clear, and the garages and rental car center are open.”
The storm complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the June 24 collapse of a Miami-area building. Despite that challenge, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida. The death toll from that tragedy rose to 46 Wednesday.
Elsa storm should move across the southeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. through Thursday, said Jack Beven, a senior hurricane specialist at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center in Miami.
In Georgia, a tropical storm warning was posted along the portion of the coast of Brunswick. The Hurricane Center said sustained winds of up to 50 mph are expected in parts of southeast Georgia.
“Right now, we’re basically looking at a cloudy, rainy and windy day,” Glynn County Emergency Management Agency Director Alec Eaton told the Brunswick News on Tuesday. “I feel confident we can sit down and let it pass over us without any major impacts. Hopefully.”
A tropical storm watch was in effect as far north as Duck, North Carolina, to Chincoteague, Virginia, and for the Chesapeake Bay south of New Point Comfort.
Elsa became the first hurricane of the season last week, blasting through the Caribbean and leaving three people dead. It calmed somewhat to a tropical storm but regained hurricane status Tuesday for a few hours before returning to a tropical storm.
Spaghetti models: Track Elsa here
Contributing: Diane Pantaleo and Cheryl McCloud, USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press