Storm Eta strengthens, heads to Florida

Andrea Rodriguez
·2-min read

A strengthening Tropical Storm Eta is slicing across Cuba and is aimed at the southern tip of Florida, where officials are bracing for a storm that could hit at hurricane force after leaving scores of dead and over 100 missing in Mexico and Central America.

The US National Hurricane Center in Miami declared hurricane and storm surge warnings for the Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay, with the storm expected to reach that area by Sunday night or early Monday.

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.

Eta had maximum sustained winds of 100km/h on Sunday evening and was centred north of Cuba, about 100km east of Marathon, Florida, and about 150km south-southeast of Miami. It was moving northwest at 20km/h.

The storm swelled rivers and flooded coastal zones in Cuba, where 25,000 had been evacuated. But there were no reports of deaths.

Eta hit Cuba even as searchers in Guatemala were still digging for people believed buried by a massive, rain-fuelled 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.

Further south in the Keys, officials were monitoring the storm closely, but had no plans yet to evacuate tourists or residents.

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, Queja, at least five bodies have been pulled from the mud. The Indigenous community of about 1200 residents consisted of simple homes of wood and tin roofs clinging to the mountainside.

In southern Mexico, across the border from Guatemala, 20 people died as heavy rains attributed to Eta caused mudslides and swelled streams and rivers.

The worst incident in Mexico occurred in the mountain township of Chenalho, where 10 people were swept away by a rain-swollen stream. Their bodies were later found downstream.