[Breaking news update, published at 11:05 a.m. ET]
Tropical Storm Elsa is making landfall along northern Florida's Gulf Coast, in Taylor County, the National Hurricane Center said.
[Original story, published at 10:24 a.m. ET]
Tropical Storm Elsa is battering western Florida with heavy rain and strong gusts as it approaches landfall Wednesday morning at its northern Gulf Coast, threatening coastal flooding, wind damage and power outages there and elsewhere in the US Southeast.
Elsa's center, with sustained winds of 65 mph, was about 35 miles west of Cedar Key on Florida's northwest coast as of about 8 a.m. ET, the National Hurricane Center said.
It was moving north toward the Big Bend region, where it is expected to make landfall Wednesday morning on a path that likely will take it to Georgia, the Carolinas and eventually the mid-Atlantic coast.
Besides heavy rain and flooding, Elsa threatens winds of 40 mph and higher in already-saturated areas of northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina -- which could topple trees and power lines.
'We've had a lot of rainfall this past month. If you get winds at 40 mph or 50 mph, some of these trees are going to be falling down,' CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Wednesday morning.
'There's a lot more damage still to be done.'
Flooding was happening Wednesday morning in parts of southwestern Florida, where Elsa's outer bands still were dropping rain. This included the Fort Myers area, where high water made some roads impassable, the National Weather Service said.
Because gusts of hurricane strength still are possible, a hurricane warning is in place Wednesday morning for Florida's west coast from Chassahowitzka (some 60 miles north of Tampa) north to southern Taylor County in Florida's Big Bend region.
About 10,000 utility customers in Florida were without power Wednesday morning ahead of Elsa's landfall, according to utility tracker PowerOutage.us.
The system weakened to a tropical storm early Wednesday after becoming a Category 1 hurricane Tuesday. More than 13 million people are under a tropical storm warning across parts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
Elsa will have generally dropped 3 to 9 inches of rain in of western and northern Florida by storm's end -- though up to 12 inches had fallen north of Port Charlotte by Wednesday morning, the National Weather Service said.
Though Elsa's most intense effects are being felt in western Florida, outer bands also sent rain and winds to parts of the state's eastern side.
In the southeastern Florida community of Surfside, crews intended to continue a search and rescue operation at the site of a deadly condo collapse unless wind gusts rose above 45 mph, a fire rescue spokesperson said.
Elsa also lashed the Florida Keys on Tuesday. After the storm passed, the Coast Guard was told people needed rescuing in the water more than 20 miles off Key West. By nightfall, the service still was searching for nine people in the water and that 15 had been rescued, it said. Details about what led to the rescues weren't immediately available.
Counties and utilities prepare ahead of storm
Ahead of the storm, Tampa officials encouraged residents Tuesday to stay home and get ready.
'We are prepared here in the city of Tampa, but we need you to do your part as well,' Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said in a video posted to Twitter. 'Don't go outside tonight. If you don't have to, do not go outside. Stay in.'
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expanded his state of emergency declaration Tuesday to include 33 counties as local, state and utility resources prepared for the storm.
The Florida National Guard has activated 60 guardsmen and is prepared to activate more for storm-related operations such as high-water rescues or humanitarian assistance, it said.
Shelters were opened in at least five counties Tuesday, and two counties issued voluntary evacuation orders.
Duke Energy, which serves 1.8 million customers in Florida, was preparing for anticipated outages, according to its website.
It had staged 3,000 utility 'crew members, contractors, tree specialists and other personnel' from Pinellas County to north Florida, the utility said Tuesday in a news release.
Additional line workers and support personnel were also brought in from the Carolinas, Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio, according to the release.
The University of Florida in Gainesville canceled classes for Wednesday in anticipation of the storm, the university said in a statement.
Elsa due to head to Georgia and South Carolina
Ahead of Elsa's landfall in Florida, tropical storm warnings were issued for parts of Georgia and South Carolina, and a tropical storm watch was issued for portions of North Carolina and Virginia.
After coming ashore in Florida, Elsa's center is expected to head into Georgia on Wednesday and South Carolina by Thursday, then eventually move into the mid-Atlantic coast.
About 2 to 6 inches of rain are expected in portions of southeastern Georgia and the lowlands of South Carolina, the hurricane center said.
Roughly 1 to 5 inches of rain are possible in coastal portions of North Carolina and southeastern Virginia through Thursday night, according to the hurricane center.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency Tuesday for 91 of his state's 159 counties in preparation for Elsa.
'This storm system has the potential to produce destructive impacts to citizens throughout the central, southern, and coastal regions of the state of Georgia and due to the possibility of downed trees, power lines, and debris, Georgia's network of roads may be rendered impassable in the affected counties, isolating residences and persons from access to essential public services,' Kemp said.
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