Tropical Storm Eta slams into South Florida

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A couple walks along the beach during a downpour Sunday on Miami Beach.(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

Beaches and coronavirus testing sites were closed, public transportation was shut down and some evacuations were in place early Monday after Tropical Storm Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys, bringing heavy rains to already-flooded city streets.

The storm killed scores of people and left more than 100 missing in Mexico and Central America before hitting land in Florida late Sunday on Lower Matecumbe Key. The system’s slow speed and heavy rains posed an enormous threat to South Florida, an area already drenched by more than 14 inches of rain last month. Eta could dump an additional six to 12 inches, forecasters said.

“In some areas, the water isn’t pumping out as fast as it’s coming in,” Miami Dade Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz warned.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he was in frequent contact with county water officials about the struggle to drain the floodwater, which has stalled vehicles, overrun some intersections and even crept into some homes.

On Sunday night, authorities in Lauderhill 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 high 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 officials.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said a tropical storm warning was in place for the Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay. Storm surge warnings were discontinued early Monday.

Eta had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph Monday morning and was centered about 45 miles north-northwest of Key West and 65 miles south of Naples. It was moving west-northwest at 13 mph.

Eta was expected to move out into the southeastern Gulf of Mexico and intensify into a hurricane late Monday or Tuesday.

In the Florida Keys, the mayor ordered mandatory evacuations for mobile home parks, campgrounds and RV parks and those in low-lying areas. Several school districts closed, saying the roads were already too flooded and the winds could be too gusty for buses to transport students. Several shelters also opened in Miami and the Florida Keys.

“Please take this storm seriously,” Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson said. “Please don’t drive through flooded roadways.”

The storm swelled rivers and flooded coastal zones in Cuba, where 25,000 had been evacuated. But there were no reports of deaths. Authorities in Guatemala on Sunday raised the known death toll there to 27 from 15 and said more than 100 people were missing, many of them in the landslide in San Cristobal Verapaz.

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

Eta initially hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, and authorities from Panama to Mexico were still surveying the damage following days of torrential rains during the week.

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