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Floridians hunker down as Elsa is expected to be upgraded to a hurricane

Tropical Storm Elsa was expected to strengthen into a hurricane before making landfall on Florida’s northern Gulf Coast, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday (July 06).

The center of Elsa was about 155 miles (250 km) south-southwest of Tampa, Florida, and was moving north at around 9 miles per hour (15 km per hour), with maximum sustained winds of 70 mph (110 kph), the NHC said in a late afternoon advisory. A storm becomes a hurricane when maximum sustained winds reach 74 mph.

Residents of Tampa put sandbags in their doorways as they prepared for Elsa to come ashore.

And in nearby Riverview, a pet-friendly shelter had been set up at the local high school, and cots were being set up for local residents.

With Elsa due to make landfall on Wednesday morning, a hurricane watch is in effect from Egmont Key, in the Tampa Bay region, to the Steinhatchee River some 180 miles north along the Gulf Coast.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said landfall was expected between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. ET (1200 and 1300 GMT) around the Tampa Bay area.

DeSantis said that there were several search and rescue teams who had been working at the site of the building collapse in Surfside who were prepared to lend assistance if necessary.

“We have search and rescue that are ready to go,” DeSantis told reporter at a briefing. “But we also understood that we just needed to make sure that we had the preparations done.”

In Gulfport, around 25 miles southwest of Tampa, bars and restaurants were tying down tables and chairs as Elsa approaches.

Ray Loflin of O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille said they’re taking precautions but have been through it all before.

“”Well, we’re just doing what we can, we take everything that we can get to the back and just tighten everything up. Like you say, it’s not our first rodeo. We just kind of chain it all down and hope for the best,” he said.

After landfall, the storm is forecast to move north-northeastward across the southeast of the United States through Thursday, dropping 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) of rain across the Florida peninsula.

Tornadoes were possible on Tuesday across Florida and on Wednesday in north Florida, southeast Georgia and the low country of South Carolina, the NHC said.

Strong winds and rain slammed Key West on Tuesday morning and caused the streets to flood as the storm passed by offshore.

(Production: Ashraf Fahim)

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