HAVANA (AFP) – Tropical Storm ETA made landfall on Mattecombe Key in Florida on Sunday evening, days after dozens of people were killed and more than 100 dead in Mexico and Central America.
The US National Hurricane Center in Miami has announced tornado and storm surge warnings for the Keys from Ocean Reef to Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
Florida officials have shuttered beaches, ports and COVID test sites, shut down public transportation and urged residents to stay off the streets. Several shelters have also opened in the Miami and Florida Keys for residents of mobile homes and low-lying areas. Broward County also shut down personal education on Monday, and Miami appeared poised to do the same.
On Sunday evening, authorities in Lauderhill, Florida, responded to a report about a car that had slipped into a canal. Pictures taken by firefighting units at the scene about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Miami showed rescuers searching for what appeared to be flooded water near a parking lot.
Firefighters pulled one person out of a car and took the patient to a hospital in critical condition, according to a statement from Lauderhill Fire’s media official. Respondents were continuing to search for others.
ETA had been exposed to maximum winds of 65 mph (100 km / h) Sunday night and was centered about 30 miles (45 km) east to northeast from Marathon, Florida, and 70 miles (115 km) east and northeast from Key West. It was moving from west to northwest at 14 mph (22 km / h).
The storm swelled rivers and inundated coastal areas of Cuba, with 25,000 people evacuated. However, there were no reports of deaths.
ETA struck Cuba earlier even while researchers in Guatemala were still searching for people believed to have been buried by a massive landslide inundated by rain. On Sunday, authorities 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.
About 60,000 people were evacuated in Guatemala.
At least 20 people have also been reported killed in southern Mexico and local officials in Honduras have reported 21, although the National Disaster Agency has confirmed only eight.
On Sunday, Pope Francis spoke of Central Americans, who were struck by a “violent hurricane, which has caused many casualties and massive damage, also exacerbated by the already difficult situation due to the epidemic.” Speaking to the believers gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Francis prayed for “that the Lord welcome the dead, comfort their families and provide for all those who have tried so, as well as all those who do their utmost to help them.”
In Florida, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for eight counties on Saturday at the end of the state as ETA approaches, urging residents to stock up on supplies. South Florida has begun emptying ports and opening a small number of shelters in the Miami and Florida Keys to residents of caravans and lowland areas.
Miami-Dade County declared a state of emergency on Friday night and also warned that flood control would be in effect until Tuesday night.
To the south in the Keys, officials were watching the storm closely, but had no plans yet to evacuate tourists or residents. They urged residents to secure their boats and encouraged visitors to consider adjusting plans until ETA passes.
ETA initially hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, and authorities from Panama to Mexico are still surveying damage after days of torrential rains during the week.
In Guatemala, search teams first had to overcome multiple landslides and deep mud to reach the site where officials estimated that about 150 homes had been destroyed.
In the worst-affected village of Coija, at least five bodies have been recovered from the mud. The indigenous community of about 1,200 consists of simple wooden houses and tin roofs that cling to the side of the mountain.
Rescuers used a helicopter to evacuate survivor Emilio Cale, who said he had lost up to 40 family members and relatives. Cale, 65, dislocated his shoulder when a landslide sent stones, trees and earth into the house as he was about to sit down to lunch with his wife and grandchildren. Cale said he had hit several yards (meters) by slipping, and none of the others could get out.
“My wife is dead, and my grandchildren are dead,” said Cale of a nearby hospital.
At least one additional person died in Guatemala on Sunday when a small plane crashed while transporting emergency supplies to the affected area, firefighters’ spokesman Robin Telles said.
In neighboring Honduras, 68-year-old Maria Elena Mijia Guadron died when the brown waters of the Chamilicon River flowed into the Planeta neighborhood of San Pedro Sula before dawn Thursday.
In southern Mexico, across the border with Guatemala, 20 people were killed by torrential rains attributed to ETA that caused mudslides and swollen streams and rivers, according to Chiapas state civil defense official Elias Morales Rodriguez.
The worst accident in Mexico occurred in the mountain town of Chinalho, where ten people were washed away by a torrential rain; Their bodies were later found downstream.
The flooding in the neighboring state of Tabasco was so bad that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador cut a trip to western Mexico and headed to Tabasco, his hometown, to oversee relief efforts.