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Florida braces as Hurricane Elsa gets nearer to coast, landfall expected Wednesday morning

Florida is bracing for Elsa, which regained hurricane strength Tuesday night, and its expected landfall Wednesday morning, forecasters said.

The hurricane could dump as much as 9 inches of rain and cause flooding, and officials are warning of a possible life-threatening storm surge.

The Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 75 mph was moving north “just offshore” the Tampa Bay area around 11 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center said. It was around 65 miles southwest of Tampa and moving at 14 mph.

Officials in Tampa on Tuesday night urged residents to stay off the roads. “You don’t need to be out, do not go out,” Mayor Jane Catsor said earlier Tuesday. “We’re going to have a lot of rain, a lot of wind.”

In New Port Richey, northwest of Tampa, Derek Watkinson put storm shutters on his home Tuesday.

“With Mother Nature, anything can happen,” Watkinson told NBC affiliate WFLA. “So, I’m just going to go with the flow and a ‘better safe than sorry’ kind of thing.”

On Tuesday night, hurricane-force winds extended up to 25 miles from the storm’s center, but tropical-storm-force winds reached 80 miles from the center, forecasters said.

“It’s a compact storm, but that compact storm packs a punch,” said Ken Graham, director of the National Hurricane Center.

Hurricane warnings were in effect from Tampa Bay and north to the Steinhatchee River in the state’s Big Bend region. Storm surge warnings covered a stretch of the coast from south of Fort Myers to the Aucilla River southeast of Tallahassee.

The storm is expected to make landfall along the north Florida Gulf coast Wednesday morning before moving into Georgia and North Carolina on its way northeast.

In addition to the watches and warnings in Florida, a tropical storm warning was in place for the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, and watches extended to North Carolina.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency for parts of his state Tuesday to allow for aid, and Florida had declared an emergency ahead of the storm.

Utility company Duke Energy said it had 3,000 personnel staged in western and northern Florida to respond to power outages and crews had been brought in from other states.

Tampa International Airport suspended commercial service at 5 p.m. Tuesday but expected to reopen Wednesday morning. Sarasota recorded a 54 mph gust at its airport Tuesday night, the city said.

Determined visitors head for Sloppy Joe’s Bar while crossing a flooded Duval Street as heavy winds and rain pass over Key West, Fla., on July 6, 2021.Rob O’Neal / AP

Elsa lashed the Florida Keys with tropical-storm-force winds Tuesday. Key West International Airport recorded a gust of almost 60 mph, the National Weather Service said.

The storm is the first hurricane of the Atlantic hurricane season, which began June 1 and lasts through November.

Elsa is blamed from the death of one person on St. Lucia and of two in the Dominican Republic, The Associated Press reported.

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