Posted on Sunday, July 4, 2021 | 6:52 p.m.
Updated Sunday July 4, 2021 | 6:52 p.m.
HAVANA (AP) – Cuba evacuated 180,000 people on Sunday over fears Tropical Storm Elsa could cause heavy flooding after hitting several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.
The Cuban government opened shelters and moved to protect sugarcane and cocoa crops before the storm, which was moving off Cuba’s southern coast on Sunday evening. Most of the evacuees went to relatives, while some took refuge in government facilities. Hundreds of people living in mountainous areas have taken refuge in natural caves prepared for emergencies.
The storm’s next target was Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 15 counties, including Miami-Dade County, where a high-rise condominium collapsed the last week.
The center of Elsa was on Sunday evening near the southern coast of Cuba, about 65 miles (105 kilometers) west of Cabo Cruz, and was moving northwest at 15 mph (24 km / h) . There were maximum sustained winds of around 60 mph (95 km / h), the National Hurricane Center in Miami said.
The center said the storm is expected to gradually weaken as it passes over central Cuba on Monday.
âFollowing Elsa’s emergence over the Strait of Florida and the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, a slight strengthening is possible,â he said.
Rain fell intermittently in the eastern provinces of Cuba throughout Sunday as the storm moved south.
âSo far it has been a gentle and serene rain. There is no downpour. The streets don’t overflow, âYolanda TabÃo, a 73-year-old retiree living in Santiago, told The Associated Press. “I thought it could be worse.”
Rafael Carmenate, a local Red Cross volunteer who lives across from the beach in Santa Cruz del Sur, told the AP by phone: âWe have some water – showers. The sea has not entered. The weather is cloudy and there are gusts.
The storm killed one person in Saint Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. A 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died in separate events in the Dominican Republic on Saturday after walls collapsed on them, according to a statement from the Emergency Operations Center.
Elsa was a Category 1 hurricane until Saturday morning, causing widespread damage to several eastern Caribbean islands on Friday as the first hurricane of the Atlantic season. Among the hardest hit was Barbados, where more than 1,100 people reported damaged houses, including 62 houses that collapsed. The government has promised to find and fund temporary housing to avoid regrouping people in shelters amid the pandemic.
Felling trees have also been reported in Haiti, which is particularly vulnerable to flooding and landslides due to widespread erosion and deforestation. Haiti’s Civil Protection Agency said Sunday that three people were injured by felled trees.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for western Cuba and for the Florida Keys from Craig Key west to the Dry Tortugas.
Elsa is the first storm with the fifth name on record and also broke the record for the fastest hurricane in the tropic, with a speed of 31 mph on Saturday morning, said Brian McNoldy, hurricane researcher at the University of Miami .
Portions of Cuba are expected to receive rainfall of 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25 centimeters) through Monday, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches (20 centimeters). Jamaica was expected to grow to 10 to 20 centimeters (4 to 8 inches), with maximum totals of 15 inches (38 centimeters).
Associated Press writer DÃ¡nica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed to this report.