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Pedestrians dash across the intersection of Greene and Duval streets in Key West The Key West Citizen via PA Images

Elsa weakens to tropical storm as it threatens Florida coast

A hurricane warning was in effect for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key to the Steinhatchee River.

LAST UPDATE | 7 Jul 2021

ELSA HAS WEAKENED to a tropical storm as it threatened Florida’s northern Gulf Coast after raking past the Tampa Bay region with strong winds and heavy rain.

State governor Ron DeSantis the storm was forecast to come ashore sometime between 8am and 9am today.

A hurricane warning is in effect for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River.

“We ask that you please take it seriously,” the Republican governor told reporters in Tallahassee.

“This is not a time to joyride because we do have hazardous conditions out there.”

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the Tampa Bay area, which is highly vulnerable to storm surge.

The most powerful winds were forecast to remain just offshore from the beach towns west of St Petersburg.

Elsa’s maximum sustained winds stood at 70mph early today. Its core was about 60 miles south-west of Tampa.

It is moving north at 14mph, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.

Forecasters said Elsa would slice across inland north Florida as a tropical storm with strong rains and wind, then move on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia before heading out in the Atlantic Ocean by Friday.

Schools and government offices in the Tampa area were closed and most public events postponed as Elsa approached yesterday.

Tampa mayor Jane Castor, however, predicted hockey’s Stanley Cup finals game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens would be played as scheduled tonight.

Tampa International Airport suspended operations at 5pm on Tuesday and planned to resume flights at 10am today following a check for any storm damage, according to its website.

Duke Energy, the main electric utility in the Tampa Bay area, said in a statement it had about 3,000 employees, contractors, tree specialists and support personnel ready to respond to power outages in the storm’s aftermath.

Additional crews are being brought in from other states served by Duke.

Earlier yesterday, Elsa swept past the Florida Keys but spared the low-lying island chain a direct hit.

Still, there were heavy rains predicted in the Keys through today, along with strong winds.

The storm also complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium on 24 June. Despite that challenge, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, on the state’s south-east coast.

In Georgia, a tropical storm warning was posted along the portion of the coast of Brunswick, with the US National Hurricane Centre saying tropical storm conditions with sustained winds of up to 50mph are expected in parts of south-east Georgia.

“Right now, we’re basically looking at a cloudy, rainy and windy day,” Glynn County emergency management agency director Alec Eaton told the Brunswick News.

“I feel confident we can sit down and let it pass over us without any major impacts. Hopefully.”

To the north in South Carolina, emergency officials are watching Elsa, but no evacuations were ordered during the peak summer beach tourism season.

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