HAVANA, July 4 (Reuters) – Tropical Storm Elsa strengthened on Sunday evening as its center neared south-central Cuba, with the Caribbean island government issuing hurricane warnings for provinces from Cienfuegos and Matanzas.
The United States’ National Hurricane Center (NHC) predicted Elsa would strengthen further before passing over Cuba.
Elsa had arrived in eastern Cuba earlier today, lashing palm trees with high winds and bringing constant downpours along parts of the southern coast.
The Miami-based NHC said data from an aircraft indicated maximum sustained winds were near 65 miles per hour (100 km per hour) with higher gusts. He had downgraded Elsa from a hurricane on Saturday. Read more
A hurricane is defined as having winds of at least 75 mph (121 km / h).
“There is a lot of wind and waves of a meter or more,” Wilfredo Munoz Lopez, who rents rooms to tourists in Cabo Cruz, said by telephone. “There is no one outside. Everyone is in their house or shelters because we expect the situation to get worse.”
Local forecasters warn of heavy rains for days, the worst being in central and possibly western Cuba.
“It’s not very windy, but a lot of rain, even in this region,” said housewife Misladi Pulgar at the foot of the Sierra Maestra mountains, inland from Cabo Cruz. “They evacuated everyone who lived near the rivers and reservoirs.”
According to provincial reports, more than 100,000 people were evacuated in the potential path of the storm, most to the homes of family and friends, but thousands also to government shelters.
Evacuations were underway to the capital Havana in the west for fear that the rains of the next few days would cause the collapse of dilapidated buildings.
It has raised concerns as the country experiences a wave of coronavirus with a transmission rate of more than 10% on Saturday, twice which often triggers a lockdown.
The center of Elsa was 265 km east-southeast of Cayo Largo and about 440 km southeast of Havana at 11 p.m. ET (3 a.m. GMT), the NHC said, and was heading northwest at 15 mph 24 km / h).
The storm will bring 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 cm) of rain to Cuba, with a few spots reaching 15 inches (38 cm). The NHC said it would lead to flash floods and significant mudslides. The southern coast of Cuba is expected to receive a storm surge of up to 1.5 m.
Elsa is expected to continue approaching central Cuba late Sunday and early Monday, before heading for the Strait of Florida on Monday and passing near the Florida Keys early Tuesday.
Tornadoes are possible in South Florida on Monday afternoon and Tuesday, the Miami-based NHC said in an alert.
The approaching storm has forced authorities in Florida to begin work to demolish the remaining part of a condominium that collapsed 11 days ago, leaving at least 24 dead and more than 120 people missing. Read more
Others in the area were still grappling with Sunday’s fallout.
The Haitian authorities, where the storm seriously affected the agricultural sector, according to an initial assessment, have warned of a risk of flooding and landslides.
In Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, some roads were flooded.
“People have been trapped in vehicles,” said Owen Palmer, a first responder, adding that some residents were afraid.
“They didn’t take the storm seriously – as Jamaicans always do – until the rain started to fall.”
Iane Thomas, who runs a small restaurant, said a swollen river flooded neighboring houses. “The river was flowing very fast because a lot of rain fell in the morning. It came down from the hills,” Thomas said.
Reporting by and Marc Frank in Havana, Cuba, Kate Chappell in Kingston, Jamaica, and Andre Paultre in Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Writing by Stefanie Eschenbacher; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Daniel Wallis, Diane Craft and Lincoln Feast.
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