A storm that has lashed the Caribbean and the Florida Keys with pounding rain and gusty winds and complicated the search for survivors in a deadly condominium collapse has strengthened into a hurricane.
The National Weather Service said Tuesday that Hurricane Elsa was packing winds as high as 75 mph (121 kph) as it hurtled toward Florida’s northern Gulf Coast. The Category 1 storm is expected to make landfall between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Wednesday, somewhere between the Tampa Bay area and the Big Bend region.
In addition to damaging winds and heavy rains, the Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center warned of life-threatening storm surges, flooding and isolated tornadoes. A hurricane warning has been issued for a long stretch of coastline, from Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay to the Steinhatchee River in Florida's Big Bend area. Landfall was expected somewhere in between.
The Tampa area is highly vulnerable to storm surge because the offshore waters and Tampa Bay are quite shallow, experts say. Gov. Ron DeSantis said the area would take a hard hit from the storm overnight.
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Meanwhile, crews in yellow helmets and blue jumpsuits searched the debris for a 13th day at the site of the Florida condominium collapse while wind and rain from the outer bands of Hurricane Elsa complicated their efforts.
Officials overseeing the search sounded increasingly somber Tuesday about the prospects for finding anyone alive, saying they have detected no new signs of life in the rubble as the death toll climbed to 36.