Tropical Storm Eta pounded Cuba with 60-mph winds, heavy rains and storm surge Sunday as forecasters warned the deadly storm would strengthen en route to the Florida Keys.
Gov. Ron DeSantis warned Floridians to stash seven days of supplies. National Hurricane Center Director Ken Graham said in a Facebook Live post that there was little time to waste before the storm arrives, possibly within hours.
“You’re going to be dealing with Eta all week,” Graham said. “It’s going to take a lot to get this thing out of here.”
Last week Eta stormed through Central America as a Category 4 hurricane, triggering deadly mudslides that destroyed entire villages. Eta was expected to make a westward turn Sunday somewhere in the Florida Straits between Cuba and the Florida Keys or South Florida, AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Dan Pydynowski said.
Guatemala searches for bodies: Eta heads to Cuba, Florida
“Exactly where and when Eta makes this turn will determine the extent and magnitude of impacts in Florida,” he said. “Although locally damaging winds, heavy rain and some flooding are likely in at least South Florida and the Florida Keys.”
The Florida Keys and peninsula have mostly been spared the brunt of damage from the record-setting, 2020 Atlantic hurricane season that has spawned 28 named systems. Incredibly, no landfalls have occurred in the state yet this season. But Accuweather warned that Eta may pose a significant threat to lives and property and, at the very least, an interruption to daily activities and travel late this weekend and early next week.
Tropical storm warnings were issued for South Florida and the Florida Keys. Forecasters predict 8-12 inches of rain will fall over parts of South Florida. Eta’s path later next week and beyond was uncertain. Accuweather said the most likely scenario was for Eta to roll off of Florida and emerge in the southeastern Gulf of Mexico early this week, possibly restrengthening into a hurricane yet again.
As of 10 a.m. ET Sunday, Eta was centered 235 miles south-southeast of Miami with maximum sustained winds of 60 mph. The storm was pushing north at 12 mph.
Eta made history last week when it matched the strength of Hurricane Laura, the strongest storm of the brutal 2020 hurricane season, with winds peaked at 150 mph. That’s just a few miles per hour short of a Category 5 storm.
Eta brought death and destruction to Central America, where an estimated 100 people were believed buried in a rain-fueled landslide in Guatemala. Fresh landslides forced rescue workers to delay efforts to reach 150 homes buried in up to 50 feet of mud.
“We are coordinating so that all the personal are evacuated … because we can’t work there,” Juan Alberto Leal, the lead emergency worker in the town of Queja, told Reuters. “If we stay, lives will be lost.”
Rescue workers used a helicopter to evacuate survivor Emilio Caal, who said he was blown several yards by the force of the slide. He said he lost as many as 40 family members and relatives.
“My wife is dead, my grandchildren are dead,” Caal said.
Pope Francis, speaking at St. Peter’s Square, prayed for the “many victims” of the storm that “caused immense damage, aggravated by the already difficult situation of the pandemic.”
Eta is the 28th storm of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which ties the 2005 season for the most storms on record, the Weather Channel said. It’s also the 12th hurricane of the season, which ties for the second-most on record for a year in the Atlantic.
Hurricane season officially ends Nov. 30.