A powerful tropical storm ETA swept Cuba on Sunday and targeted the tip of Florida, as officials prepared for a storm that could be hit by hurricane force after dozens were killed and more than 100 missing in Mexico and Central America.
The US National Hurricane Center in Miami announced tornado and storm surge warnings for switches from Ocean Reef to Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay, with storm expected to hit that area by Sunday night or early Monday.
Florida officials have shuttered beaches, ports and Covid test sites, shut down public transportation and urged residents to stay off the street. Several shelters have also opened in the Miami and Florida Keys for mobile home and lowland residents.
Broward County also shut down personal education on Monday, and Miami appeared poised to do the same.
ETA was hit with maximum winds of 65 mph on Sunday afternoon and was centered in northern Cuba, about 115 miles (185 kilometers) southeast of Marathon, Florida, and about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of Miami. It was moving 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 even while researchers in Guatemala were still searching for people believed to have been buried by a massive landslide inundated by rain. Authorities on Sunday 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 suffered a “violent hurricane, which caused many casualties and severe 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 this, as well as all who do their best to help them.”
In Florida, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantes declared a state of emergency Saturday for eight counties at the end of the state as ETA approaches, urging residents to stock up on supplies.
Miami-Dade County declared a state of emergency Friday night and also warned that flood control would remain in effect until Tuesday night.
To the south at Al Muftah, officials have been watching the storm closely, but have 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.