Residents in the Tampa area fill sandbags to prepare for Elsa on Tuesday. The city said more than 33,000 sandbags were distributed over the last two days. Photo courtesy City of Tampa/Twitter
July 7 (UPI) -- Millions along Florida's northwestern coastline prepared Wednesday for the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa, which has caused power outages, flight cancellations and widespread closures.
Elsa, a Category 1 hurricane until just recently, arrived over land late Wednesday morning on Florida's northern Gulf Coast, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest update.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management said seven counties -- Pinella, Hillsborough, Pasco, Dixie, Hernando, Citrus and Levy -- were under severe weather warnings since Elsa was gaining speed before it arrived over land.
The City of Tampa Emergency Management extended sandbag distribution for residents and told them to prepare for extended power outages, high winds, heavy rains and flooding.
"Tropical storms have the potential to bring damaging winds and heavy rain that could last many hours," Tampa emergency officials said in a statement on its website. "Prepare your home by cleaning out gutters and drainpipes, trimming trees and hedges if needed, and securing or putting away loose objects such as outdoor furniture, birdbaths, and potted plants."
Duke Energy Florida, which serves almost 2 million customers, and Tampa Electric Co., which serves 800,000 more, brought in large crews to prepare for the storm's aftermath. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cautioned residents that they could be without power for several days.
"We prepare year-round and continuously modernize the grid to keep the lights on, but tropical weather events like [Tropical Storm] Elsa bring wind-blown debris and flooding that can cause outages," Duke Energy Florida President Melissa Seixas told the Tampa Bay Times.
"We are prepared for those conditions and encourage our customers to continue monitoring the storm."
Tampa International Airport closed on Tuesday evening and officials said it would reopen sometime on Wednesday, depending on the storm's progress and damage. Officials urged travelers to individually check their airlines for the latest flight schedule changes.
More than 60 flights out of Tampa were listed as canceled on Wednesday, according to FlightAware's live tracker.
DeSantis issued a state of emergency for 33 counties and the Florida National Guard activated dozens of guardsmen to serve at the State Emergency Operations Center and Logistics Readiness Center.
"We are well-equipped with assets including high-wheeled vehicles, helicopters, boats and generators, and are preparing for possible missions to include humanitarian assistance, security operations, search and rescue, aviation and more," the Florida National Guard said, according to CNN.