Cuba evacuates 180,000 as Tropical Storm Elsa threatens heavy flooding
Cuba evacuated 180,000 people in its southern region on Sunday, amid fears that Tropical Storm Elsa could unleash heavy flooding after battering several Caribbean islands and killing at least three people.
The Cuban government opened shelters and moved to protect sugarcane and cocoa crops. Most of those evacuated went to relatives’ homes, while about 23,000 sheltered at government facilities. About 400 in mountainous areas took refuge in caves prepared for the emergency.
The storm’s next target was Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 15 counties, including in Miami-Dade where a high-rise building collapsed last month.
Late on Sunday afternoon, Elsa’s center was near Cuba’s southern coast, about 15 miles (20km) west of Cabo Cruz, and was moving northwest at 14 mph (22 kph). It had maximum sustained winds of about 60 mph (95 kph), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
The NHC said the storm was expected to weaken as it moves across Cuba on Monday.
“After Elsa emerges over the Florida Straits and the south-eastern Gulf of Mexico, some slight restrengthening is possible,” it said.
The storm killed one in St Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. A 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died on Saturday in the Dominican Republic after walls collapsed on them, according to the Emergency Operations Center.
Elsa was a category 1 hurricane until Saturday, causing damage in several eastern Caribbean islands 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 homes collapsed. The government promised to fund temporary housing to avoid clustering people in shelters amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Downed trees were reported in Haiti, which is vulnerable to floods and landslides because of widespread erosion and deforestation.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica and from the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince to the border with the Dominican Republic. A hurricane watch was issued for six Cuban provinces. Some have reported a high number of Covid-19 infections, raising concern the storm could force large groups to shelter together.
Elsa is the earliest fifth named storm on record and also broke the record as the tropics’ fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 31mph on Saturday, according to Brian McNoldy at the University of Miami.
Portions of Cuba were forecast to get rainfall of 5 to 10 inches (13 to 25cm) through Monday, with isolated maximum amounts of 15 inches (20cm). Jamaica was expected to get 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20cm), with maximum totals of 15 inches (38cm).