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Tropical Storm Eta hits Cuba, Florida braces itself

November 8, 2020

Tropical Storm Eta has already left dozens dead and over 100 missing in Central America. It has now made landfall in Cuba, prompting the US to put parts of southern Florida and the Keys on hurricane watch.

Man stands in front of a property destroyed by the storm
Image: Delmer Martinez/AP/picture alliance

After steamrolling into Central America last week as a major hurricane, Tropical Storm Eta struck Cuba on Sunday with 65 mile-per-hour (100 kilometer-per-hour) winds and heavy rains.

After making landfall in Cuba, Eta now has its sights set on the southern tip of Florida after leaving dozens dead and over 100 missing in Central America.

As of 1 a.m. local time (0600 GMT/UTC), the US-based National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the center of the storm was located about 125 miles west-southwest of Camaguey, Cuba, and moving northeast at 13 miles per hour. 

The NHC warned that tropical-storm-force winds extended more than 100 miles away from the center.

Much of central Cuba was already under a tropical storm warning prior to making landfall, as was the northwestern Bahamas and the southern part of the US state of Florida.

Eta is expected to cross over Cuba, dumping 5 to 10 inches (50 to 125 mm) of rain, with isolated storm totals up to 15 inches, enhancing risks of flash flooding, and a dangerous storm surge of 2 to 4 feet (0.6 to 1.2 meters) above normal tide levels. 

Read more: Extreme weather explained: How climate change makes storms stronger

Moving toward the US

After passing through Cuba, the storm is expected to track north and then northwest into the Gulf of Mexico. The National Hurricane Center said on Twitter that "a life threatening storm surge is possible along the coast & residents should heed advice from local officials."

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency in southern counties of the state, in advance. Beaches, ports and coronavirus testing centers, and public transportation were shut down by officials, who urged residents to stay off the street.

Shelters were opened in Miami and Florida Keys for people with mobile homes and those living in low-lying areas. 

The storm could potentially gain strength as it travels into the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane watches are in effect for the Florida coastline from Deerfield Beach to Bonita Beach and the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to Dry Tortugas.

Devastation in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua

The storm made landfall for the first time on Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane in Nicaragua. The ferocious winds devastated much of the country, as well as nearby Honduras and Guatemala. 

A man carries salvaged belongings from the destruction in Guatemala
A landslide triggered by Eta buried much of the Queja village in GuatemalaImage: Esteban Biba/AP Photo/picture alliance

Landslides killed dozens of people throughout Central America, including one that buried the Guatemalan village of Queja. The landslide buried an estimated 150 homes leaving at least 109 people missing and 15 dead, according to authorities.

Woman loses 22 relatives

Gloria Cac, a member of the Poqomchi people and a resident of Queja, said 22 family members were missing due to the landslide.

"All her family is gone, she's the only survivor. Her dad, mom, siblings, aunts and uncles, grandparents, they're all gone," said Cac, carrying a small child in her arms.

Francisco Muz, a retired general who is helping with the rescue efforts, said landslides have not stopped due to the continuous rain in the mountains.

"At ground zero there is a terrible reality ... this national tragedy is centered in San Cristobal Verapaz, in Queja village," said Muz. 

An army spokesman said it could take months to unearth all the homes affected by the landslide.

tg, kbd, jsi/mm (AP, Reuters)