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Cuba Evacuates 180,000 as Tropical Storm Elsa Approaches


A man loads a truck with furniture to be relocated prior to the anticipated arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa, in Havana, Cuba, July 4, 2021.

Cuba evacuated 180,000 people amid fears Sunday that Tropical Storm Elsa could unleash severe flooding after battering several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.

The Cuban government had opened shelters and moved to protect sugarcane and cocoa crops ahead of the storm. Most of those evacuated went to relatives' homes, while some people sheltered at government facilities. Hundreds living in mountainous areas took refuge in natural caves that had been prepared for the emergency.

The storm's next target was Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in 15 counties, including in Miami-Dade County where the high-rise condominium building collapsed last week.

On Sunday afternoon, Elsa was about 65 kilometers (40 miles) south-southeast of Cabo Cruz, Cuba and was heading northwest at 22 kph (14 mph). It had maximum sustained winds of about 95 kph (60 mph), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

The center said the storm is expected to gradually weaken Monday as it moves across Cuba.

A man secures the roof of his house in preparation for Tropical Storm Elsa, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 3, 2021.
A man secures the roof of his house in preparation for Tropical Storm Elsa, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, July 3, 2021.

"After Elsa emerges over the Florida Straits and the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, some slight restrengthening is possible," it said.

The storm killed one person in St. Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died Saturday in separate events in the Dominican Republic 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 in 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 homes that completely collapsed as the government promised to find and fund temporary housing to avoid clustering people in shelters amid the pandemic.

Downed trees also were reported in Haiti, which is especially vulnerable to floods and landslides because of widespread erosion and deforestation.

Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record and also broke the record as the tropic's fastest-moving hurricane, clocking in at 50 kph (31 mph) on Saturday morning, according to Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.