Tuesday, 1 Dec 2020

Tropical Storm Eta: Florida braces for impact after dozens die in Central America

Dozens of people have been killed in central America and at least 100 are missing after Tropical Storm Eta caused landslides and rivers burst their banks.

Authorities in Guatemala raised the death toll there to 27 from 15 and said more than 100 people were missing, many of them in a landslide in San Cristobal Verapaz.

Local officials in Honduras reported 21 dead, though the national disaster agency has confirmed only eight.

Eta initially hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, and authorities from Panama to Mexico are still surveying the damage following days of torrential rain 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 southern Mexico, across the border from Guatemala, 20 people died as heavy rains caused mudslides and swelled streams and rivers, according to Chiapas state civil defence official Elías Morales Rodríguez.

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

Eta made landfall in Florida early on Monday, bringing heavy rains to already flooded city streets.

Beaches and coronavirus testing sites were closed and public transportation was shut down.

The system’s slow speed and heavy rains pose a large threat to an area which was already drenched by more than 350mm (14in) of rain last month.

Forecasters said Eta could dump an additional 150-300mm (6-12in) of rain.

Schools in several districts have been closed, with authorities saying the roads were already too flooded and the winds could be too strong for buses to transport students. Shelters also opened in Miami and the Florida Keys.

“Please take this storm seriously,” urged Palm Beach County emergency management director Bill Johnson.

“Please don’t drive through flooded roadways.”

In the Florida Keys, the mayor ordered mandatory evacuations for mobile home parks, campgrounds and RV parks and those in low-lying areas.

On the forecast track, Eta is expected to move out into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and intensify into a hurricane late Monday or Tuesday.

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