Storm Elsa brings strong winds, steady downpour to Cuba

Strong waves and sargassum brought by the tide are seen at the Malecon after the passage of storm Elsa in Santo Domingo, on July 4, 2021. (PHOTO / AFP)

HAVANA – Tropical Storm Elsa on Sunday arrived with force in eastern Cuba, whipping palms with strong winds and bringing a steady downpour along parts of the Caribbean island's southern coast, as others in the region were still grappling with the fallout.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said maximum sustained winds were near 95 km per hour with higher gusts, having downgraded Elsa from a hurricane, on Saturday.

A hurricane is defined as having winds of at least 75 mph.

"There is a lot of wind and waves of a meter or more," Wilfredo Munoz Lopez, who rents rooms to tourists on Cabo Cruz, said by phone. "There is no one out. Everyone is in their home or shelters, as we expect it to get worse."

Local forecasters are warning of intense rain for days with the worst in central and perhaps western Cuba.

According to provincial reports, more than 100,000 people have been evacuated in the potential path of the storm, most to homes of family and friends, but thousands also to government shelters

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Inland from Cabo Cruz, in the foothills of the Sierra Maestra Mountains, homemaker Misladi Pulgar said "there is not much wind but a lot of rain, even for this area. They evacuated everyone living near the rivers and reservoirs."

According to provincial reports, more than 100,000 people have been evacuated in the potential path of the storm, most to homes of family and friends, but thousands also to government shelters.

Evacuations were underway as far west as Havana for fear that rains over the next few days could cause the collapse of dilapidated buildings.

This has raised concerns as the country is experiencing a surge of the coronavirus with a transmission rate of more than 10 percent on Saturday, twice what often triggers a lockdown.

Elsa's center was near eastern Cuba, the NHC said. It was about 65 miles (105 km) west of Cabo Cruz at 8 pm ET, and heading northwest at 24 km/h.

The storm will bring 13 to 25 cm of rain to Cuba, with some spots getting up to 38 cm. The NHC said this would result in significant flash flooding and mud slides. Cuba's southern coast is forecast to receive a storm surge of up to 1.5 m.

Elsa is forecast to continue to approach central Cuba late on Sunday and early Monday, before heading toward the Florida Straits on Monday and pass near the Florida Keys early Tuesday.

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Tornadoes are possible across southern Florida on Monday afternoon and into Tuesday, the Miami-based NHC said in an alert.

The approaching storm has forced Florida officials to begin work to demolish the remaining portion of a condo building that collapsed 11 days ago, killing at least 24 with over 120 people missing. read more

Authorities in Haiti, where the storm has severely affected the agriculture sector, according to an initial assessment, warned of a risk of floods and landslides.

In Jamaica's capital Kingston, some roads were flooded.

"Persons have been trapped in vehicles," Owen Palmer, a first responder said, adding that some Jamaicans were scared.

"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 nearby houses. "The river was running very fast cause plenty rain fell in the morning. It came down from the hills," Thomas said.