A strengthening Tropical Storm Eta made landfall on Florida’s Lower Matecumbe Key last night, days after leaving scores of dead and over 100 missing in Mexico and Central America.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami declared hurricane and storm surge warnings for the Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
Florida officials closed beaches, ports and COVID testing sites, shut down public transportation and urged residents to stay off the street. Several shelters also opened in Miami and the Florida Keys for residents in mobile homes and low lying areas. Broward County also shut down in-person schooling Monday and Miami seemed poised to do the same.
Last night, authorities in Lauderhill, Florida, responded to a report of a car that had driven into a canal. Photos taken by fire units on the scene about 30 miles north of Miami showed rescuers searching what appeared to be flooded waters near a parking lot.
Firefighters pulled one person from a car and took the patient to a hospital in critical condition, according to a statement from Lauderhill Fire’s public information officer. Responders were continuing to search for others.
Eta had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph last night night and was centered about 30 miles east-northeast of Marathon, Florida, and 70 miles east-northeast of Key West. It was moving west-northwest at 14 mph.
The storm swelled rivers and flooded coastal zones in Cuba, where 25,000 had been evacuated. But there were no reports of deaths.
Eta earlier hit Cuba even as searchers in Guatemala were still digging for people believed buried by a massive, rain-fueled landslide. Authorities on Sunday raised the known death toll there to 27 from 15 and said more than 100 were missing in Guatemala, many of them in the landslide in San Cristobal Verapaz.
Some 60,000 people had been evacuated in Guatemala.
At least 20 people also were reported dead in southern Mexico and local officials in Honduras reported 21, though the national disaster agency had confirmed only eight.
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday for eight counties at the end of the state as Eta approached, urging residents to stock up on supplies. South Florida started emptying ports and a small number of shelters opened in Miami and the Florida Keys for residents in mobile homes and low-lying areas.
Miami-Dade County declared a state of emergency Friday night and also warned a flood watch would be in effect through tomorrow night.
Further south in the Keys, officials were monitoring the storm closely, but had no plans yet to evacuate tourists or residents. They urged residents to secure their boats and encouraged visitors to consider altering plans until Eta had passed.
Eta initially hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, and authorities from Panama to Mexico were still surveying the damages following days of torrential rains during the week.
In Guatemala, search teams first had to overcome multiple landslides and deep mud just to reach the site where officials have estimated some 150 homes were devastated.
In the worst-hit village, Quejá, at least five bodies have been pulled from the mud. The Indigenous community of about 1,200 residents consisted of simple homes of wood and tin roofs clinging to the mountainside.