SAVANNAH, Ga. — Tropical Storm Elsa carved a destructive and soaking path up the East Coast after killing at least one person in Florida and spinning up a tornado at a Georgia Navy base that flipped recreational vehicles upside-down and blew one of them into a lake.
Elsa’s winds strengthened slightly Thursday morning to 45 mph (75 kph), and it was dropping torrential rains as it made its way through North Carolina late Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update. Elsa was expected to pass near the eastern mid-Atlantic states by Thursday night and move near or over the northeastern United States on Friday.
Some re-strengthening was possible Thursday night and Friday while the system moves close to the northeastern United States.
A tropical storm warning was in effect north of Great Egg Inlet, New Jersey to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, and for the coast of Long Island from East Rockaway Inlet to the eastern tip along the south shore and from Port Jefferson Harbor eastward on the north shore. A warning was also in effect from New Haven, Connecticut to Merrimack River, Massachusetts including Cape Cod, Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, and Nantucket.
There was a chance Long Island in New York would see sustained tropical storm-force winds late Thursday night and into Friday morning, the National Weather Service in New York warned.
Elsa seemed to spare Florida from significant damage, though it 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 was killed Wednesday when a tree fell and struck two cars. The National Weather Service reported 50 mph (80 kph) wind gusts in the city. The tree fell during heavy rains, according to Capt. Eric Prosswimmer of the Jacksonville Fire Rescue Department.
Nine people were injured Wednesday evening in coastal Camden County, Georgia, when a tornado struck a campground for active-duty service members and military retirees at Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base. Eight of those hurt were taken to hospitals, base spokesperson Chris Tucker said.
“We understand none of the injuries to be life threatening,” Tucker said Thursday. “Some of those folks have already been released from the hospital and others have been kept for further observation.”
The EF-2 tornado flipped over multiple RVs, blowing one of the overturned vehicles about 200 feet (61 meters) into a lake, the National Weather Service said in a preliminary report early Thursday after its employees surveyed the damage.
Tucker said about a dozen recreational vehicles at the campground were damaged. Some buildings were also damaged on the base, which is the East Coast hub for the Navy’s fleet of submarines armed with nuclear missiles. Tucker said there was no damage to submarines or any other “military assets.”
Sergio Rodriguez, who lives near the RV park, said he raced to the scene fearing friends staying at the park might be hurt. The area was under a tornado warning Wednesday evening.
“There were just RVs flipped over on their sides, pickup trucks flipped over, a couple of trailers had been shifted and a couple of trailers were in the water” of a pond on the site, Rodriguez said in a phone interview.
The hurricane center said there was a risk of flooding in South Carolina, which was predicted to get 3 to 5 inches (8 to 13 centimeters) of rainfall.
More than 7 inches (18 centimeters) of rain was recorded at a weather station near Gainesville, Florida, the weather service reported. More than 5 inches (13 centimeters) of rain had fallen by early Thursday at Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast; and at a weather station along the Savannah River in Jasper County, South Carolina.
Scattered power outages were being reported along Elsa’s path Wednesday evening, with about 35,000 homes and businesses on either side of the Georgia-Florida state line without electricity, according to the website poweroutages.us.
The storm complicated the search for potential survivors and victims in the collapse of a Miami-area condominium on June 24. Regardless, crews continued the search in the rubble of Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Florida, on the state’s southeast coast.
The storm also temporarily halted demolition Wednesday on the remainder of an overturned cargo ship off the coast of Georgia. The South Korean freighter Golden Ray capsized in September 2019 off St. Simons Island, about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of Savannah. Crews have removed more than half the ship since November.
Most salvage workers were sheltering indoors Wednesday, said Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Himes, a spokesperson for the multiagency command overseeing the demolition.
Himes said crews would be watching to see if Elsa’s winds scatter any debris from the ship into the surrounding water. The vessel’s remains are open at both ends, like a giant tube on its side, and its cargo decks still contain hundreds of bashed and mangled cars.
In Edisto Beach, South Carolina, Wednesday started muggy and overcast.
“The kind of day you can just feel the weather wanting to move in,” Mayor Jane Darby said.
The forecast for the barrier island 30 miles (48 kilometers) down the coast from Charleston was similar to a heavy summer thunderstorm – an inch or two (2.5 to 5 centimeters) of rain, winds gusting up to about 40 mph (64 kph) and maybe a little beach erosion. Other South Carolina beaches expected similar conditions, coming mostly overnight to be less of a bother to visitors during an extremely busy summer.
“Businesses are struggling with workers in short supply a lot more than they are going to be bothered by this storm,” Darby said. “That’s where the stress is now.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard said 13 people were rescued from a boat that had left Cuba with 22 people aboard late Monday. Nine people remained missing. Elsa was also blamed for three deaths in the Caribbean before it reached Florida.
Elsa is the earliest fifth-named storm on record, said Brian McNoldy, a hurricane researcher at the University of Miami.