At least 1 dead, multiple injured as Tropical Storm Elsa whips north Florida, pushing toward Georgia and the Carolinas
As Tropical Storm Elsa creeps over the southeast and continues north, it has wreaked havoc near the Georgia-Florida border, leaving at least one person dead and multiple injured.
Winds from Elsa caused a tree to fall on two cars during an afternoon commute in Jacksonville, Florida, killing one person, according to Capt. Eric Prosswimmer with the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department. A possible tornado touched down in the city Wednesday evening, according to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.
In Georgia, there were reports of multiple injuries and damage after a suspected tornado touched down at Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, about 40 miles north of Jacksonville. The possible tornado touched down around 5:50 p.m. ET, according to the base. Many of the inured were taken to local hospitals for treatment, the base said. The base reported there was no damage to any sensitive military asset or submarine.
Camden County, where the base is located, confirmed a tornado touched down in a tweet.
“Both of these tornadoes were spawned in the outer bands on the eastern side of Tropical Storm Elsa, where tornadoes are most common with landfalling tropical systems,” CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said.
A tornado watch was in place for northeastern Florida and southwestern Georgia until 8 p.m. A new tornado watch has just been issued for portions of Georgia and South Carolina, including Savannah and Charleston. This watch is in place until 5 a.m. ET as Tropical Storm Elsa could trigger additional tornadoes into the overnight hours, Ward said.
While at least one person died in the US, at least three have already died in Elsa’s path. Three deaths in the Caribbean were linked to the storm.
Elsa’s center, with sustained winds of 45 mph, was about 75 miles west of Brunswick, Georgia, heading north-northeast around 8 p.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
Elsa is expected to weaken to tropical depression by Thursday, when it reaches the Carolinas before heading to the mid-Atlantic coast. Elsa “will likely become a tropical storm again” on Friday as the center moves along or just off the eastern seaboard where it could threaten New York City and Boston on Friday, according to the NHC.
Elsa brings trees and power lines down
A few dozen miles from landfall, part of a roof’s surface had been lifted from a motel on Florida’s Cedar Key on Wednesday, photos taken by motel guest Jonathan Riches showed.
“Winds starting howling in the middle of the night, and rain starting pounding the windows,” Riches told CNN, adding about the conditions: “Never seen anything like this before in my life.”
Roads were flooding late Wednesday morning in the Taylor County town of Steinhatchee, not far from where the storm came ashore, CNN affiliate WCTV reported.
High winds in already-saturated areas of northern Florida and southern Georgia could topple trees and power lines, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Wednesday morning.
“We’ve had a lot of rainfall this past month. If you get winds at 40 mph or 50 mph, some of these trees are going to be falling down,” Meyers said.
A tornado was reported in Florida’s Columbia County near Jacksonville Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
That snapped trees and blew away a home’s deck and fence, CNN affiliate WJXT reported.
More than 18,000 utility customers in Florida were without power late Wednesday evening, according to utility tracker PowerOutage.us.
Roads also were flooding Wednesday morning in parts of southwestern Florida, where Elsa’s outer bands still were dropping rain. This included the Fort Myers area, where some roads were impassable, the National Weather Service said.
More than 4.9 million people were under a tropical storm warning across parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina on Wednesday afternoon. A tropical storm watch has also been issued up north in parts of New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Elsa will have generally dropped 3 to 9 inches of rain in western and northern Florida by storm’s end — though up to 12 inches had fallen north of Port Charlotte by Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said.
Counties and utilities prepare ahead of storm
As Elsa approached, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry urged residents to be cautious, since flooding and wind damage were possible.
“We don’t want people to get overconfident” and drive into any flooding or miss any downed power lines, Curry told CNN Wednesday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded his state of emergency declaration Tuesday to include 33 counties as local, state and utility resources prepared for the storm.
The Florida National Guard has activated 60 guardsmen and is prepared to activate more for storm-related operations such as high-water rescues or humanitarian assistance, it said.
Shelters were opened in at least five counties Tuesday, and two counties issued voluntary evacuation orders.
Duke Energy, which serves 1.8 million customers in Florida, was preparing for outages, according to its website.
It had staged 3,000 utility “crew members, contractors, tree specialists and other personnel” from Pinellas County to north Florida, the utility said Tuesday in a news release. Additional line workers and support personnel were also brought in from the Carolinas, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, according to the release.
The University of Florida in Gainesville canceled classes for Wednesday in anticipation of the storm, the university said.
Crews work in Surfside; boat capsizes off Key West
Though Elsa’s most intense effects are being felt in western Florida, outer bands also sent rain and winds to parts of the state’s eastern side.
In the southeastern Florida community of Surfside, crews intended to continue a search and rescue operation at the site of a deadly condo collapse unless wind gusts rose above 45 mph, a fire rescue spokesperson said.
Elsa also lashed the Florida Straits and the Florida Keys earlier this week. A boat from Cuba carrying 22 people capsized Monday night more than 20 miles off Key West. By Wednesday, 13 were rescued and nine still were missing, the US Coast Guard said.
CNN’s Hollie Silverman, David Williams, Dave Hennen, Monica Garrett, Amanda Watts, Gregory Lemos and Rebekah Riess contributed to this report.