Elsa strengthened into the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday as it battered the eastern Caribbean, where officials closed schools, businesses and airports, and it appeared headed eventually for Florida or the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The impending storm could spell further trouble for the Surfside rescue efforts following the condo collapse near Miami last Thursday, which resumed late Thursday after a lengthy pause.
As of Friday morning, 18 people had been confirmed dead with 145 still missing eight days after the collapse.
The area is also reeling from a new report that part of the building needed extensive repairs and that the warning of impending danger wasn't heeded quickly enough.
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Florida appears to be in the path of Hurricane Elsa, which could bring winds of around 20mph to the state
Search and rescue personnel remove remains on a stretcher as they work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building where scores of people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed on Friday
Search and rescue personnel work atop the rubble at the Champlain Towers South condo building, where scores of people remain missing more than a week after it partially collapsed, Friday, July 2, 2021, in Surfside, Florida
Heavy rains and winds lashed Barbados as the Category 1 storm headed for islands including St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which are struggling to recover from recent massive volcanic eruptions.
Elsa was located about 75 miles east of St. Vincent and was moving west-northwest at 28 mph. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.
'That level of sustained wind can blow down a lot of buildings and cause a lot of damage,' said St. Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves. 'I am pleading with you. Let us not take this hurricane lightly. This is not the time to play the fool.'
A hurricane warning was in effect for Barbados, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The long-term track showed the storm rolling toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti as a hurricane before weakening back to tropical storm force and potentially heading in the direction of Florida by early Tuesday.Insurance Loans Mortgage Attorney Credit Lawyer
While Florida is squarely in the cone of uncertainty, the extent to which it will be affected won't be clear until Sunday in all likelihood, after it makes its way through the Caribbean islands.
There is a possibility that the storm could accelerate and reach Florida by Sunday evening at its earlier potential arrival time.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Martinique, the southern coast of Dominican Republic from Cabo Engano to the border with Haiti and the entire coast of Haiti.
A tropical storm watch was in effect for Grenada, Saba, Sint Eustatius, Dominica and Jamaica, while a hurricane watch was in effect for Haiti's southern region from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.
Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, beating out last year's Eduardo which formed on July 6, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach.
Elsa was expected to pass near the southern coast of Hispaniola, which is shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic, on Saturday. The storm was then expected to move near Jamaica and portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday.
Projections show that the storm could hit Florida on Tuesday, though the track is not certain at this point
Florida - and Miami specifically - appear to be in the cone of the storm as of Friday morning
The earliest possible arrival time of the storm in Florida could happen on Sunday evening, depending on the track
The storm was forecast to produce rainfall totals of 3 to 6 inches with maximum totals of 10 inches inches on Friday across the Windward and southern Leeward Islands, including Barbados. The rain could unleash isolated flash flooding and mudslides.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said Thursday morning the state was 'actively monitoring' the storm and coming up with contingency plans for if and when it strikes.
'Obviously the state meteorologist team is actively monitoring the storm and will continue to provide updates and our department of emergency management continues to implement contingency plans for potential tropical weather impacts including identifying alternate work facilities,' he said in the press briefing.
Elsa had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph with higher gusts and was 865 miles east-southeast of the Windward Islands, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Tropical-storm-force winds extend outward up to 105 miles from the center and it was moving west at 25 mph.
WPEC-CBS12 meteorologist Lauren Olesky said the water in the Atlantic seems warm enough to carry the storm all the way to South Florida.
The new storm forecast comes a day after the mayor of Surfside said the remaining condo structure may need to be demolished to stop it falling on rescuers after the search for survivors and victims was halted indefinitely due to safety fears.
Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett told NBC News officials are considering carrying out a controlled demolition of the part of Champlain Towers South that is still standing as the search is yet to resume more than 12 hours after it was called off in the early hours of Thursday morning.
'If the existing building is a problem, then we need to eliminate that problem quickly,' he said.
A satellite image of Elsa as it approaches the Caribbean in the Atlantic
Debris dangles from the remains of apartments sheared in half, in the still standing portion of the Champlain Towers South
Workers load a stretcher with remains extricated from the rubble into a Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner van
Workers transport a stretcher with remains extricated from the rubble, near the Champlain Towers South condo building
The need to resume the search quickly comes as 145 people remain missing in the rubble more than one week on from the condo tower's collapse and as the collapse site is now in danger of being hammered by a tropical storm charting its path across the Atlantic this week.
Burkett told NBC's Geoff Bennett this impending adverse weather was raising further concerns about the structural integrity of the remains of the 12-story tower.
'If the [remaining] building is going to fall, we should make sure it falls the right way,' he said.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava said the decision about the demolition needs to be made 'extremely carefully and methodically,' considering the potential impact on the pile of debris and the effect on the search.
The rescue work was halted early Thursday after crews noticed widening cracks and up to a foot of movement in a large column.
Rescue efforts were halted and the area around the building was cleared just after 2am Thursday.
Work resumed shortly before 5pm after the site was evaluated by structural engineers, Cava said, describing firefighters as 'really, really excited out there.'
'We will continue to search feverishly, as we have done all along in the parts of the collapse that we currently have access to,' she said.
The work stoppage had threatened to dim hopes for finding anyone alive in the debris a week after the tower came down. Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said the halt was worrisome since 'minutes and hours matter, lives are at stake.'
Search-and-rescue crews have faced difficult conditions at the site of the collapsed building and had to endure thunderstorms almost every day.
Officials said the site had become unstable and could topple on search and rescue teams, with technology used to monitor cracks sounding alarms about the dangers and on-site experts warning of movements in the structure.
Rescue efforts at the Miami condo tower have been forced to come to a halt amid fears the remaining structure could topple on search and rescue teams
The area around the Champlain Towers South building was cleared and the hunt for victims and survivors among the rubble put on pause just after 2am Thursday. Searchers comb through the rubble Wednesday
Structural engineer Scott Nacheman, who is working at the site with FEMA, told the families desperately waiting for news about their loved ones that demolition of the rest of the building was an option.
'One of our concepts of operations is exactly what you're talking about,' Nacheman said, according to Miami New Times.
'And the reason it hasn't been possibly pursued further at this point is we didn't want to cause any more damage or destruction to the individuals who are trapped in the low