Cuba evacuates 180,000 as Elsa continues its approach

Tropical storm warning is in effect for parts of Cuba and Jamaica, as well as areas in the US state of Florida.

A man loads a truck with furniture to be relocated prior to the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa, in Havana, Cuba, on July 4 [Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters]

Cuba has evacuated 180,000 people across the island amid concerns Tropical Storm Elsa could cause severe flooding after three people were killed across the Caribbean in the storm’s wake.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for several Cuban provinces, including Havana, as well as Jamaica, the Florida Keys and Florida’s southwest coast, the Miami-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said on Sunday afternoon.

The Cuban government has opened shelters and moved to protect sugarcane and cocoa crops ahead of the storm. Most of those evacuated went to relatives’ homes, while thousands sheltered at government facilities.

The storm registered maximum sustained winds of 95 kilometres per hour (60 miles per hour), the NHC said at 2pm (18:00 GMT) on Sunday, but those could strengthen throughout the day and into Sunday night as it approaches Cuba’s south-central coast.

“However, gradual weakening is forecast to occur on Monday when Elsa moves across Cuba. After Elsa emerges over the Florida Straits and the southeastern Gulf of Mexico, some slight restrengthening is possible,” the agency said.

Volcanic ash and mud fill a road following the passing of Elsa in an area on the north coast of Sandy Bay, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, on July 3 [Robertson S Henry/Reuters]

Elsa was a Category 1 hurricane up until Saturday morning, causing widespread damage in several eastern Caribbean islands on Friday as the first hurricane of the Atlantic season.

The storm killed one person in Saint Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died on Saturday in separate events in the Dominican Republic after walls collapsed on them, according to a statement from the Emergency Operations Center.

Barbados was also among the hardest hit areas, with more than 1,100 people reporting 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. The storm had affected the country’s agriculture sector, according to an initial assessment.

Waters churn along the rocky coastline as Tropical Storm Elsa arrives in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on July 3, in this still image taken from social media video [Eloy Contreras via Reuters]

At 2pm (18:00 GMT) on Sunday, the storm’s centre was about 65km (40 miles) south-southeast of Cabo Cruz in Cuba and heading northwest.

Elsa is expected to bring as many as 20cm (8 inches) of rain to Jamaica, with some areas getting up to 38cm (15 inches), while Cuba could see storm surges of as much as 1.5 metres (5 feet) in some areas.

Some roads were flooded in Kingston. “Persons have been trapped in vehicles,” Owen Palmer, a first responder said, adding that some Jamaicans were scared. “They didn’t take the storm seriously – as Jamaicans always do – until the rain started to fall.”

Iane Thomas, who runs a small restaurant, said a swollen river flooded nearby houses. “The river was running very fast cause plenty rain fell in the morning. It came down from the hills,” Thomas said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies