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Elsa weakens to tropical storm as it threatens Florida coast

A hurricane warning was in effect for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River.

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Pedestrians dash across the intersection of Greene and Duval streets in Key West (The Key West Citizen/AP)

Pedestrians dash across the intersection of Greene and Duval streets in Key West (The Key West Citizen/AP)

Pedestrians dash across the intersection of Greene and Duval streets in Key West (The Key West Citizen/AP)

Elsa has weakened to a tropical storm as it threatened Florida’s northern Gulf Coast after raking past the Tampa Bay region with strong winds and heavy rain.

State governor Ron DeSantis the storm was forecast to come ashore sometime between 8am and 9am on Wednesday (1pm and 2pm BST).

A hurricane warning is in effect for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River.

“We ask that you please take it seriously,” the Republican governor told reporters in Tallahassee.

“This is not a time to joyride because we do have hazardous conditions out there.”

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries in the Tampa Bay area, which is highly vulnerable to storm surge.

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The most powerful winds were forecast to remain just offshore from the beach towns west of St Petersburg.

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A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Elsa in the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA/AP)

A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Elsa in the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA/AP)

AP/PA Images

A satellite image shows Tropical Storm Elsa in the Gulf of Mexico (NOAA/AP)

Elsa’s maximum sustained winds stood at 70mph early on Wednesday. Its core was about 60 miles south-west of Tampa.

It is moving north at 14mph, according to the US National Hurricane Centre.

Forecasters said Elsa would slice across inland north Florida as a tropical storm with strong rains and wind, then move on to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia before heading out in the Atlantic Ocean by Friday.

Schools and government offices in the Tampa area were closed and most public events postponed as Elsa approached on Tuesday.

Tampa mayor Jane Castor, however, predicted hockey’s Stanley Cup finals game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens would be played as scheduled on Wednesday night.

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People secure a tarp over a cargo hold on a sponge boat (Tampa Bay Times/AP)

People secure a tarp over a cargo hold on a sponge boat (Tampa Bay Times/AP)

AP/PA Images

People secure a tarp over a cargo hold on a sponge boat (Tampa Bay Times/AP)

Tampa International Airport suspended operations at 5pm on Tuesday and planned to resume flights at 10am on Wednesday (3pm BST) following a check for any storm damage, according to its website.

Duke Energy, the main electric utility in the Tampa Bay area, said in a statement it had about 3,000 employees, contractors, tree specialists and support personnel ready to respond to power outages in the storm’s aftermath.

Additional crews are being brought in from other states served by Duke.

Earlier on Tuesday, Elsa swept past the Florida Keys but spared the low-lying island chain a direct hit.

Still, there were heavy rains predicted in the Keys through Wednesday, along with strong winds.

The storm also complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium on June 24. Despite that challenge, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, on the state’s south-east coast.

In Georgia, a tropical storm warning was posted along the portion of the coast of Brunswick, with the US National Hurricane Centre saying tropical storm conditions with sustained winds of up to 50mph are expected in parts of south-east Georgia.

“Right now, we’re basically looking at a cloudy, rainy and windy day,” Glynn County emergency management agency director Alec Eaton told the Brunswick News.

“I feel confident we can sit down and let it pass over us without any major impacts. Hopefully.”

To the north in South Carolina, emergency officials are watching Elsa, but no evacuations were ordered during the peak summer beach tourism season.


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