A weakened Tropical Storm Elsa made landfall in Florida on Wednesday, killing at least one person in the state and injuring several others when a possible tornado struck a campground at a navy base in south-east Georgia.
The National Hurricane Center said Elsa still packed 45mph (72kph) winds more than nine hours after making landfall along Florida’s northern Gulf Coast. The storm’s center was sweeping over south-east Georgia by Wednesday evening.
The storm dumped rain across the coast but it appears to have spared Florida significant damage and widespread power outages.
Elsa wobbled through the Gulf of Mexico, briefly reaching hurricane strength, but it has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.
The storm still threatened flooding downpours and caused several tornado warnings. The coasts of Georgia and South Carolina were under a tropical storm warning. Forecasters predicted Elsa would remain a tropical storm into Friday and issued a tropical storm watch from North Carolina to Massachusetts.
Authorities in Jacksonville, Florida, said one person had been killed on Wednesday when a tree fell and struck two cars. The National Weather Service reported 50mph (80kph) wind gusts in the city. The tree fell during heavy rains and no one else was injured, according to Capt Eric Prosswimmer of the Jacksonville fire rescue department.
“Now is a time to remember … that weather is unpredictable,” Jacksonville’s mayor, Lenny Curry, said during a news conference on Wednesday evening as he urged drivers to stay off the road. “This is really early in the [hurricane] season. We’re just outside of the July 4th holiday, we’ve had our first storm and, unfortunately, we’ve had a fatality.”
In nearby Camden county, Georgia, a possible tornado struck a park for recreational vehicles at Kings Bay naval submarine base. About 10 people were injured and taken to hospitals by ambulance, said the base spokesman Scott Bassett. The extent of their injuries was not immediately clear. He said some buildings on the base appeared to have been damaged as well.
The Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, said up to 26,000 customers were without power in the region, most of them in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk counties that surround Tampa Bay. Crews were working to restore electricity and DeSantis said no hospitals reported an outage, which has been a major problem in past storms.
DeSantis told a news conference that no major structural damage had been reported as Elsa came ashore.
“Clearly, this could have been worse,” the Republican governor said, though he cautioned that many storm-related deaths happen after the system passes.
Elsa’s maximum sustained winds stood at 65mph (100kph), the Miami-based US National Hurricane Center said in its 8am EDT advisory.
Earlier on Tuesday, Elsa swept past the Florida Keys but spared the low-lying island chain a direct hit.
The storm also complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium on 24 June. Despite that challenge, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, on the state’s south-east coast.
Elsa was expected to bring 2-4in of rain to Georgia as it churns to the north-east before entering South Carolina to the west of Savannah early on Thursday.
Earlier, Cuban officials evacuated 180,000 people against the possibility of heavy flooding from a storm that already battered several Caribbean islands, killing at least three people.
Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.