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Tropical Storm Eta dumps blustery rain on Florida west coast

The storm slogged ashore near Cedar Key, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph. The National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted Eta would then move northeast across Florida as it loses strength.

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Tropical Storm Eta dumped torrents of blustery rain on Florida’s west coast as it moved over Florida after making landfall north of the heavily populated Tampa Bay area Thursday morning.

The storm slogged ashore near Cedar Key, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph). The National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted Eta would then move northeast across Florida as it loses strength. Eta briefly gained hurricane strength Wednesday morning, but forecasters said it later weakened to tropical storm status.

In Bradenton Beach, Mark Mixon stepped into his flooded garage as he was laying sandbags around his home on Wednesday evening and was electrocuted, said Jacob Saur, director of public safety for Manatee County. There were appliances plugged into the garage and when Mixon stepped into the water, he was killed, Saur said.

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Rescue crews had to wait for Florida Power and Light, which was responding to power outages from the storm, to deenergize the grid for the neighborhood where Mixon lived before they could assist, Saur said.

There were no other immediate reports of any injuries or serious damage in the Tampa Bay area as the storm skirted past that region Wednesday afternoon. Several tornado warnings were issued, but there were no reports of one touching down.

On Thursday morning, much of the Tampa Bay area was under a storm surge warning. The storm forced officials to close some lanes on two of the three bridges that cross Tampa Bay, connecting the St. Petersburg area to Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which links Pinellas and Manatee counties, was closed Wednesday but reopened after winds died down Thursday morning.

J.P. Brewer, owner of Salty’s Gulfport, was cleaning up after her beachside restaurant flooded Thursday morning.

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“It was pretty bad last night when I came in,” adding that there were already 3 to 4 inches of water inside by just before high tide. “We’re in here doing our cleanup today and assessing the damage. I think we fared pretty well considering as bad as it looked last night.”

She said there was also some debris on the patio.

“I’ve been here almost 8 years and we’ve never had water damage,” Brewer said. “This is the worst I’ve seen.”

Firefighters in Tampa rescued around a dozen people who got stuck in flooding on Bayshore Boulevard. On Thursday morning, there were still a few abandoned vehicles on the flooded roadway, WFTS in Tampa reported.

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Late Wednesday residents of Twin Cities Mobile Home Park in St. Petersburg were forced to evacuate because of flooding, the television station reported.

Another St. Petersburg neighborhood, Shore Acres, also reported heavy flooding.

“It’s not safe seeing we never lost power,” Corey Appelbaum told Fox 13 in Tampa. “Literally, our family of four is trapped on (a) bed and can’t get out until (the) water recedes out of fear of electrocution.”

The storm had meandered in the Gulf of Mexico since crossing over South Florida on Sunday. At 4:20 a.m. EST Thursday, Eta was centered about 5 miles (10 kilometers) north-northeast of Cedar Key and moving northeast near 13 mph (20 kph).

Eta is forecast to dissipate over the western Atlantic Ocean by the weekend.

The Tampa Bay region is home to more than 3.5 million people across five coastal counties. No mandatory evacuations were ordered, but authorities opened shelters for anyone needing them. Local media reported only a handful of people showed up.

The forecast prompted school officials in Pasco and Pinellas counties, which includes St. Petersburg, to send students home early Wednesday. Both counties announced schools would remain closed Thursday, while neighboring Hillsborough County planned to keep schools closed through Friday.

Tampa International Airport suspended operations Wednesday afternoon, but was up and running early Thursday after the storm passed. Airport officials urged travelers to check flight statuses with their airlines.

Also in Tampa, the Busch Gardens theme park announced it was closed Wednesday, and several Veterans Day events in the area were canceled. A coronavirus testing site at Tropicana Field was also closed Wednesday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an expanded emergency declaration to include 13 counties along or near the Gulf coast, adding them to South Florida counties. DeSantis also asked for an early emergency order from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to free resources needed to tackle the storm. President Donald Trump granted the request Wednesday evening.

The hurricane center said “life-threatening storm surge” was possible early Thursday, and forecasters advised residents to heed warnings from local officials.

The storm first hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killed at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico, with scores more missing. It then moved into the Gulf of Mexico early Monday near where the Everglades meet the sea.

Eta hit land late Sunday as it blew over Lower Matecumbe Key, in the middle of the chain of small islands that form the Florida Keys, but the heavily populated areas of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties bore the brunt of the fury with heavy rainfall.

It was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, it was followed by the 29th storm, Theta, located far out in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles from the Azores.

Former coverage of this story

By Curt Anderson

Tropical Storm Eta dumped torrents of blustery rain on Florida’s west coast as it marched over the Gulf of Mexico toward an expected landfall north of the heavily populated Tampa Bay area.

The National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted Eta would slog ashore sometime Thursday and then move northeast across Florida as it loses strength. Eta briefly gained hurricane strength Wednesday morning, but forecasters said it later weakened to tropical storm status with maximum winds of 70 mph (110 kph).

There were no immediate reports of any injuries, serious damage or flooding in the Tampa Bay area as the storm skirted past that region Wednesday afternoon. Several tornado warnings were issued, but there were no reports of one touching down.

“We don’t have any reports of flooding or street closures in Tampa at this point,” Mayor Jane Castor told reporters.

The storm had meandered in the Gulf of Mexico since crossing over South Florida on Sunday. At 10 p.m. Wednesday, Eta was 55 miles (88 kilometers) northwest of St. Petersburg, Florida, and moving northward at 10 mph (16 kph), the hurricane center reported. Eta had maximum winds of 65 mph (104 kph).

Tropical Storm Eta dumps blustery rain on Florida west coast
Hotel guests carry their luggage across flooded Benjamin Franklin Dr. to get to their car on Lido Key in Sarasota, Fla. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 as Hurricane Eta passes to the west in the Gulf of Mexico. (Mike Lang/Sarasota Herald-Tribune via AP)

The Tampa Bay region is home to more than 3.5 million people across five coastal counties. No mandatory evacuations were ordered, but authorities opened shelters for anyone needing them. Local media reported only a handful of people showed up.

The forecast prompted school officials in Pasco and Pinellas counties, which includes St. Petersburg, to send students home early Wednesday. Both counties announced schools would remain closed Thursday, while neighboring Hillsborough County planned to keep schools closed through Friday.

The Florida Highway Patrol closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that links Pinellas and Manatee counties because of high winds. Tampa International Airport suspended operations Wednesday afternoon, with plans to reopen no later than noon Thursday.

Also in Tampa, the Busch Gardens theme park announced it was closed Wednesday, and several Veterans Day events in the area were canceled. A coronavirus testing site at Tropicana Field was also closed Wednesday.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an expanded emergency declaration to include 13 counties along or near the Gulf coast, adding them to South Florida counties. DeSantis also asked for an early emergency order from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to free resources needed to tackle the storm. President Donald Trump granted the request Wednesday evening.

Tropical Storm Eta dumps blustery rain on Florida west coast people photos
Erika Lane takes photos of the surf at Lido Public Beach in Sarasota, Fla. on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2020 as Hurricane Eta passes to the west in the Gulf of Mexico. (Mike Lang/Sarasota Herald-Tribune via AP)

The hurricane center said “life-threatening storm surge” was possible early Thursday, and forecasters advised residents to heed warnings from local officials.

The storm first hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killed at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico, with scores more missing. It then moved into the Gulf of Mexico early Monday near where the Everglades meet the sea.

Eta hit land late Sunday as it blew over Lower Matecumbe Key, in the middle of the chain of small islands that form the Florida Keys, but the heavily populated areas of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties bore the brunt of the fury with heavy rainfall.

It was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, it was followed by the 29th storm, Theta, located far out in the Atlantic Ocean hundreds of miles (kilometers) from the Azores.

—–

Previous coverage of this story (Nov 11)

By Kelli Kennedy (AP)

Eta weakened again to a tropical storm Wednesday afternoon just hours after regaining hurricane strength as Florida braced for a second hit from the storm along the Gulf of Mexico coast near the heavily populated Tampa Bay region.

The storm’s maximum sustained winds decreased to around 70 mph (110 kph) off Florida’s southwest coast as it moved northward. Additional weakening was expected as Eta approaches the coast.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami issued a hurricane watch for a 120-mile (193-kilometer) stretch that includes Tampa and St. Petersburg. The storm has been in the Gulf of Mexico since crossing over South Florida on Sunday.

The Tampa Bay region is home to more than 3.5 million people across five coastal counties. No mandatory evacuations were immediately ordered but authorities began opening shelters for anyone needing them.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said special care is taken at shelters to protect people from the coronavirus, such as social distancing, and suggested people bring their own masks.

“Everything will be done to make sure all of our residents are safe,” Castor said.

The latest hurricane watch extends from Anna Maria Island, which is south of St. Petersburg, to Yankeetown.

The forecast prompted school officials in Pinellas and Pasco counties, which includes St. Petersburg, to send students home early Wednesday. Both counties announced schools would remain closed Thursday, as did neighboring Hillsborough County.

The Florida Highway Patrol closed the Sunshine Skyway Bridge that links Pinellas and Manatee counties because of high winds. Tampa International Airport tweeted that it would suspend operations at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

In Pasco County, officials set up four do-it-yourself locations for people to fill sandbags. In Tampa, the Busch Gardens theme park announced it is closed Wednesday and several Veterans Day events in the area were canceled.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an expanded emergency declaration to include 13 counties along or near the Gulf coast, adding them to South Florida counties. DeSantis also asked for an early emergency order from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to free resources needed to tackle the storm.

A coronavirus testing site at Tropicana Field was also closed Wednesday.

Eta was centered about 115 miles (180 kilometers) southwest of Tampa on Wednesday and moving north-northeast near 10 mph (17 kph).

The hurricane center said “life-threatening storm surge” is possible early Thursday, and forecasters advised residents to heed warnings from local officials. Tropical-storm-force winds are expected in the area by late Wednesday.

Forecasts call for more rain from the storm system over parts of already drenched South Florida.

“Never seen this, never, not this deep,” said Anthony Lyas, who has lived in his now-waterlogged Fort Lauderdale neighborhood since 1996. He described hearing water and debris slamming against his shuttered home overnight as the storm crossed Florida.

The storm first hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killed at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico, with scores more missing. It then moved into the Gulf of Mexico early Monday near where the Everglades meet the sea, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph).

There was nowhere for the water to go across much of South Florida, which had already experienced nearly 14 inches (35 centimeters) of rain in October.

Eta hit land late Sunday as it blew over Lower Matecumbe, in the middle of the chain of small islands that form the Keys, but the heavily populated areas of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties bore the brunt of the fury.

It was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, it was followed by the 29th storm — Theta.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Theta broke the record of 28 named storms in 2005. Theta was centered Wednesday afternoon about 670 miles (1,080 kilometers) southwest of the Azores, bearing top sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph) as that system moved east-northeast at 10 mph (17 kph).

Former coverage on this story (By Nov. 10, 2020)

Tropical Storm Eta was squatting off western Cuba on Tuesday after drifting away from South Florida, where it unleashed a deluge that flooded entire neighborhoods and filled some homes with rising water.

The 28th named storm of a record hurricane season was the first this year to make landfall in Florida. And now a 29th named storm has formed over the northern Atlantic: Theta took shape Monday night, eclipsing the record set in 2005, when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Wilma struck the Gulf Coast.

After striking Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killing more than 100 people from Mexico to Panama, Eta delivered torrential rains to Cuba and South Florida before moving into the Gulf of Mexico. With no powerful steering winds to guide its way, the storm drifted west again in an unusual reverse S-curve pattern.

By Tuesday morning, it was lingering just north of the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico, with top winds of 50 mph (85 kmh). Forecasters said it would remain nearly stationary through the day before moving north later in the week, but they had little confidence in where it might land again.

Eta continued to swell rivers and flood coastal zones in Cuba. Some 25,000 people were evacuated with no reports of deaths, but rainfall continued, with total accumulations of up to 25 inches (63 centimeters) predicted.

The rain also kept falling Tuesday in South Florida, where as much as 23 inches were expected to accumulate. Eta barely hit land late Sunday as it blew over Lower Matecumbe Key on its way into the Gulf of Mexico, but dumped water over densely populated neighborhoods from Monroe to Palm Beach counties.

People in Florida are very familiar with the heavy tropical rain that falls like clockwork on summer afternoons. This was something else — a 100-year rain event, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis called it. “Once the ground becomes saturated, there’s really no place for the water to go,” Trantalis said.

“I looked outside and said oh my God, it’s coming up, it’s coming up!” said Cynthia Rowe in Miami Gardens.

“Now I have fish in my yard and everything, it’s rough,” Davie resident Troy Rodriguez said, with some irony.

There were no reported deaths in Florida, unlike in Central America and Mexico, where the toll was rising.

Nearly a week after Eta crashed ashore in Nicaragua, authorities from Panama to Guatemala have reported more than 100 dead and an even higher number of missing. Extensive flooding and landslides have affected hundreds of thousands of people in countries already struggling with the economic fallout of the pandemic.

In Florida, the rain damaged one of the state’s largest COVID-19 testing sites, at Miami-Dade County’s Hard Rock Stadium, officials said. Throughout the pandemic, it has been one of the busiest places for people to get a coronavirus diagnosis. The site was expected to be closed until Wednesday or Thursday. At least seven other state testing sites were to remain closed on Tuesday.

“It’s very bad. In the last 20 years, I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Tito Carvalho, who owns a car stereo business in Fort Lauderdale and estimated the water was 3 feet (about a meter) deep in some places. Some items in his business were damaged from the flooding, he added.

Firefighters pulled a person from a car that had driven into a canal Sunday night in Lauderhill, north of Miami. The patient was hospitalized in critical condition, authorities said. And a tractor-trailer was left dangling off the elevated Palmetto Expressway in Miami, the Florida Highway Patrol said after the driver lost control.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said on Twitter that Floridians should monitor the storm over the coming days. While this storm has moved offshore, it could still bring dangerous conditions to the Gulf Coast at the end of this week,” he tweeted.

Eta expected to be hurricane and strike Florida Keys

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