Tropical Storm Elsa is now passing over the Florida Straits, after it swept across a mostly rural section of western Cuba with strong rain and winds earlier Monday, triggering flooding and mudslide warnings in the region.
In the latest update on its website, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said conditions are beginning to deteriorate across the Florida Keys. Elsa’s maximum sustained winds strengthened to 60 mph as it moved 60 miles south-southwest of Key West at 2 a.m. Tuesday.
“Some additional strengthening is forecast through tonight before Elsa moves inland over Florida,” the NHC said.
Hours earlier, in a 11 p.m. update, the NHC said there is a danger of life-threatening storm surge along parts of Florida’s west coast, and that a storm surge warning has been issued for the area.
The storm made landfall in Cuba on Monday afternoon near Cienega de Zapata, a natural park with few inhabitants. It headed northwestward across the island, passing Havana just to the east.
At 11 p.m., Elsa was advancing at just 12 mph as it moved out to sea, with sustained winds picking up to peak near 60 mph in higher gusts.
Category 1 hurricane strength begins with winds at 74 mph.
No serious damage was reported as the storm passed over Cuba. Two deaths were reported in the Dominican Republic and one in St. Lucia from the storm, which had been a Category 1 hurricane on Friday before weakening back to a tropical storm on Saturday.
According to state-run media, more than 100,000 people in Cuba evacuated from flood-prone areas or unsafe housing in the potential path of the storm.
The approach of Tropical Storm Elsa forced a demolition crew to set off a string of explosives to bring down the remaining structures of the collapsed condo in Surfside, Florida, on Sunday night. Champlain Towers South collapsed 11 days ago, killing at least 28 people with another 117 still missing.
Florida officials said the controlled demolition will aid search and rescue efforts for the remaining victims, and eliminate the possibility of the damaged building falling on its own in the storm.
The NHC has warned that some parts of Florida may experience considerable flash and urban flooding, along with minor to isolated moderate river flooding. The Keys and western portions of Florida can expect rainfall of 3 inches to 5 inches, with localized maximum totals up to 8 inches, it said.
A few tornadoes are possible across south Florida on Monday night and across the Florida peninsula on Tuesday, the agency added.
In a Twitter post, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis urged Floridians to “prepare for the possibility of heavy rain, flooding and potential power outages.”
“Now is the time to restock your supplies and review your hurricane plan,” he said.
The governor has expanded a state of emergency to include 15 additional counties expected to be impacted by the storm. DeSantis initially signed an executive order on Saturday covering 15 counties.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.