Tropical Storm Elsa continued to weaken Saturday night as it headed toward Florida, forecasters said.
The National Hurricane Center said the storm, a downgraded version of the first hurricane of the Atlantic’s 2021 season, could hit the west coast of the state Tuesday as it slowed down slightly in the Caribbean.
The tropical cyclone was located by U.S. Air Force Reserve reconnaissance aircraft Saturday night about 175 miles east-southeast of Montego Bay, Jamaica, according to the center.
The storm was moving west-northwest at 17 mph, federal forecasters said. Earlier in the day, it was moving in the same direction but at a faster 29 mph.
“An additional decrease in forward speed is expected tonight and on Sunday, followed by a turn toward the northwest Sunday night or Monday,” the hurricane center said in a late-night public advisory.
It was expected to move over Haiti overnight before moving near Jamaica and then portions of eastern Cuba on Sunday, federal forecasters said.
“Gradual weakening is forecast to occur Sunday night and Monday when Elsa will be moving over Cuba,” the hurricane center said.
A tropical storm warning was in effect for Jamaica and the southern portion of Haiti from Port Au Prince to its border with the Dominican Republic, and several Cuban provinces.
Elsa was expected to aim for the Florida Straits on Monday before possibly reaching the west coast of the state Tuesday.
Maximum sustained winds decreased to 65 mph after reaching hurricane status, 74 mph, earlier Saturday.
One death was reported in St. Lucia, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency. In the Dominican Republic, a 15-year-old boy and a 75-year-old woman died Saturday after walls collapsed on them in separate incidents, according to a statement from the Emergency Operations Center.
Widespread structural damage was reported in Barbados.
“This is a hurricane that has hit us for the first time in 66 years,” Prime Minister Mia Mottley said Saturday. “There is no doubt this is urgent.”
On Saturday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for 15 counties that could be in Elsa’s path.
“We’re preparing for the risk of isolated tornadoes, storm surge, heavy rainfall and flash flooding,” DeSantis said at a news conference.
The preparations came as search-and-rescue operations at a felled condominium complex in Surfside were suspended so the standing portion of Champlain Towers South might be demolished before Elsa arrives.
Jay Varela contributed.