Elsa strengthens in the first hurricane of the season in the Caribbean

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Elsa strengthened in the first hurricane of the Atlantic season on Friday as it hit the eastern Caribbean, where authorities have closed schools, businesses and airports, and she appeared to be eventually head to Florida or the US Gulf Coast.

Heavy rains and high winds hit Barbados as the Category 1 storm headed for islands including Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, which are struggling to recover from recent massive volcanic eruptions.

Elsa was located approximately 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of St. Vincent and was traveling west-northwest at 28 mph (44 km / h). It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 km / h), according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami.

“This level of sustained wind can bring down many buildings and cause a lot of damage,” said Prime Minister of Saint Vincent Ralph Gonsalves. ” I beg you. Let’s not take this hurricane lightly. Now is not the time to fool around.

A hurricane warning was in effect for Barbados, Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

The long-term track showed the storm was heading towards the Dominican Republic and Haiti like a hurricane before weakening again to the force of a tropical storm and potentially heading towards Florida early on Tuesday.

Authorities opened dozens of shelters in Saint-Vincent and urged people to evacuate if they lived near a valley, given the threat of flash floods, mudslides and lahars, especially in the northern part of the island where the La Soufrière volcano is located.

“Don’t wait until it’s too late to get to a shelter,” Gonsalves said.

He said 94 shelters are open, a number lower than in previous years as some 2,000 people remain in other shelters following massive volcanic eruptions that began in early April.

A tropical storm warning was in effect for Martinique, the southern coast of the 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, Saint-Eustache, Dominica and Jamaica, while a hurricane watch was in effect for the southern region of Haiti from the capital, Port-au- Prince, to the southern border with the Dominican Republic.

According to researcher Phil Klotzbach, a hurricane researcher at Colorado State University, Elsa is the first storm to be named fifth on record, beating Eduardo last year.

Elsa was due to spend Saturday near the south coast of Hispaniola, shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The storm was then expected to move near Jamaica and parts of eastern Cuba on Sunday.

The storm was expected to bring 3 to 6 inches (7 to 15 centimeters) of rain with a total maximum of 10 inches (25 centimeters) inches on Friday over the Windward and Southern Leeward Islands, including Barbados. The rain could trigger isolated flash floods and mudslides.

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