Tropical Storm Elsa expected to ‘minimally impact’ Central Florida but prepare anyway

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Weakening Tropical Storm Elsa prompted Central Florida leaders to urge people to prepare anyway — if only for the practice.

The storm is expected to graze the region next week as it heads north.

“Don’t get complacent,” said Carlos Durden, Orange County’s assistant emergency manager. “With these storms, it can always shift.”

Durden and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings briefed reporters on Independence Day to outline the county’s preparations for the advancing storm as it swirled toward Cuba on a track toward Florida’s Gulf Coast, where forecasts predict that it will make landfall Tuesday in Tampa.

Orange County will be “minimally impacted” by winds and an inch or two of rain beginning late Tuesday or early Wednesday, Demings said.

He said the county does not plan to open its shelters unless the storm strengthens or coastal counties issue evacuation orders for residents.

“We’ve done a number of things to prepare in those areas prone to flooding,” Demings said.

Crews from Orange County public works lowered lake levels in the Orlo Vista area by pumping water last week into Shingle Creek.

The working-class neighborhood about five miles west of downtown Orlando was overwhelmed by floodwaters in September 2017 when Hurricane Irma blew through Central Florida, dumping nearly 10 inches of rain on the community in a span of a day. About 500 homes were evacuated.

Demings said firefighters will visit assisted living facilities and nursing homes Monday to ensure they are equipped with working generators.

Irma knocked out air conditioning at a nursing home in Broward County where 12 resident deaths were blamed on sweltering heat.

Demings said he also does not expect the storm to disrupt three upcoming shows at the Orange County Convention Center or endanger their 37,000 attendees. The convention center last month hosted the Amateur Athletic Union junior national volleyball tournament which brought 135,000 attendees over a span of 11 days — the largest event at the complex since the pandemic struck here nearly 16 months ago.

The mayor said the county’s tourism industry continued to rebound over the holiday weekend.

“The hotels are telling me they were at near capacity — just because of tourism,” Demings said.

He said occupancy is expected to remain at about 80% capacity over the next few weeks.

An inland county, Orange is not among the 15 covered by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ State of Emergency order, issued Saturday.

In adjacent Lake County, the emergency operations center will move Monday to a greater activation level.

The county is monitoring the storm and residents may call the citizens’ information line at 352-253-9999.

County officials said potential hazards may include inland flooding and isolated tornadoes.

Saying some hazards come with little to no warning, Lake officials urged residents to sketch out a communication plan, pick a post-storm meeting place and assemble a disaster kit with important personal, medical and legal documents as well as food, water and prescription medicines.

The county will make sand and sandbags available in Astor, 23032 State Road 40; the East Lake Sports and Community Complex, 24809 Wallick Road, Sorrento; P.E.A.R. Park, 26701 U.S. 27, Leesburg; North Lake Regional Park, 40730 Roger Giles Road, Umatilla; and the Minneola Athletic Complex, 13930 Education Ave., Minneola.

Bring your own shovel.

The county will suspend its transportation services LakeXpress and the Lake County Connection if sustained winds are 37 mph or higher.

The storm could bring sustained winds of 60 mph when it makes landfall in Florida, experts said.

Elsa whipped Haiti and the Dominican Republic with heavy winds and rain Saturday, and several deaths were attributed to the raging storm.

Demings encouraged residents to visit the county’s hurricane preparedness page and make a plan for Elsa and for future storms.

To find hurricane tips, visit ocfl.net/emergency.

“This is a good opportunity to look over your individual hurricane plans,” he said.

shudak@orlandosentinel.com

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