Eta tracks toward Florida Keys after lashing Cuba

by AFP/ pic by AFP

MIAMI – Tropical Storm Eta headed towards Florida on Sunday and was set to strengthen into a hurricane again after slamming Cuba and earlier cutting a deadly path through Central America and southern Mexico.

The US National Hurricane Center warned that Eta was bringing “heavy rainfall and life-threatening flash flooding” as it approached southeastern Florida.

The NHC had earlier forecast that Eta would become a hurricane as it moved towards the Florida Keys “tonight and early Monday.”

As of 10:00 pm local time (1500 GMT Monday), Eta was packing maximum sustained winds of 65 miles (100 kilometers) per hour, according to the Miami-based NHC.

A tropical storm is considered a hurricane when it hits wind speeds of 74 miles per hour.

A hurricane warning and storm surge warning were in effect for the Florida Keys, and a storm surge watch — which is of slightly lower urgency — was in effect for the state’s southern coast.

Cuba’s meteorology institute Insmet said Eta made landfall at 4:30 am (0930 GMT). As it moved north off the island, Eta punished the archipelago of Jardines del Rey, but state television reported that the 600 foreign tourists vacationing there were protected.

Heavy rains were reported in the eastern half of Cuba, where authorities have evacuated thousands of people due to the risk of flooding.

President Miguel Diaz-Canel convened an emergency government meeting, and “no loss of life or significant damage to homes have been reported,” according to state media.

Before the storm arrived, 74,000 people were evacuated, 8,000 of them to shelters set up by the authorities, the reports said.

Western Cuba could be affected, including the Havana area, as the storm turns toward Florida, bringing swells that could produce flooding, forecasts said.

– Florida prepares –

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in the state’s southern counties on Saturday in advance of the storm, even as residents in the rain either protested or celebrated Joe Biden’s win in the US presidential election.

The Florida Keys will close schools on Monday, Covid-19 testing sites were temporarily shut and authorities opened shelters and began handing out sandbags for residents to protect their homes from flooding.

Eta hit Nicaragua on Tuesday as a powerful hurricane before losing strength.

It caused torrential rains that have left some 200 victims dead or missing in Central America. 

The most affected country has been Guatemala, where about 150 people are missing. 

Rescuers on Saturday searched for the bodies of residents of an indigenous village in the north of the country that was hit by a landslide.

In Honduras, heavy flooding in the north and northwest of the country killed 23 people, according to authorities.

Torrential rain and a bitter cold front linked to Eta have also claimed at least 20 lives in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas.


© Agence France-Presse