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Tropical Storm Elsa makes landfall on north Florida's Gulf Coast

Officials are warning of a possible life-threatening storm surge and as much as 9 inches of rain in some areas.
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Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall Wednesday on north Florida's Gulf Coast, and could bring with it as much as 9 inches of rain, flooding and life-threatening storm surge.

The National Hurricane Center said at 11 a.m. that Elsa made landfall in Taylor County with maximum sustained winds near 65 mph and higher gusts. Tropical storm-force winds extended outward up to 90 miles.

Winds later died down to 45 mph, extending 70 miles from the center. The storm is forecast to weaken as it moves further inland.

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Tornadoes, though, were possible in the northeastern portion of the state.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said 26,000 customers were already without power in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties.

DeSantis warned people not to use generators inside. He said more people had died over the last four years from carbon monoxide poisoning than from direct storm impacts "and we've had some significant storms hit our state."

Officials in Tampa on Tuesday night also urged residents to stay off the roads. "You don't need to be out, do not go out," Mayor Jane Castor said earlier Tuesday. "We're going to have a lot of rain, a lot of wind."

In Surfside, on the opposite coast from where Elsa had made landfall, crews working on the pile of the collapsed condo building for the 14th day were contending with winds and rain, but did not have to pause work overnight Tuesday, officials said Wednesday.

In New Port Richey, northwest of Tampa, Derek Watkinson put storm shutters on his home Tuesday.

“With Mother Nature, anything can happen,” he told the NBC affiliate WFLA. “So, I’m just going to go with the flow and a 'better safe than sorry' kind of thing.”

The storm will move into Georgia on Wednesday night and into the Carolinas on Thursday as it heads northeast, according to the hurricane center. Parts of Georgia and South Carolina could see between 2 to 4 inches of rain, with isolated totals of 6 inches.

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In addition to the watches and warnings in Florida, a tropical storm warning was in place for the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina, and watches extended to North Carolina.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a state of emergency for parts of his state Tuesday to allow for aid, and Florida had declared an emergency ahead of the storm.

The utility company Duke Energy said it had 3,000 personnel ready in western and northern Florida to respond to power outages and crews had been brought in from other states.

Tampa International Airport suspended commercial service at 5 p.m. Tuesday but reopened Wednesday morning. Sarasota recorded a 54-mph gust at its airport Tuesday night, the city said.

Elsa lashed the Florida Keys with tropical-storm-force winds Tuesday. Key West International Airport recorded a gust of almost 60 mph, the National Weather Service said.

Determined visitors head for Sloppy Joe's Bar while crossing a flooded Duval Street as heavy winds and rain pass over Key West, Fla., on July 6, 2021.
Determined visitors head for Sloppy Joe's Bar while crossing a flooded Duval Street as heavy winds and rain pass over Key West, Fla., on July 6, 2021.Rob O'Neal / AP

The storm was the first hurricane of the Atlantic season, which began June 1 and lasts through November.

Elsa is blamed for the death of one person on St. Lucia and of two in the Dominican Republic, The Associated Press reported.

CORRECTION (July 7, 2021, 9:58 a.m. ET): A previous version of this article misspelled the Tampa mayor's last name. She is Jane Castor, not Catsor.