At least 100 people are dead and thousands have been evacuated after Tropical Depression Eta slammed into Central America, flooding homes and bringing devastating landslides.
The storm has re-entered the Caribbean Sea and is forecast to pass over Cuba Saturday night into Sunday morning and then head toward the Florida Keys or south Florida late Sunday, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm currently has winds of 35 mph but is forecast to become a tropical storm again Friday evening, with further strengthening likely through early Sunday, the hurricane center said.
Tropical storm watches were issued for south Florida from Jupiter Inlet southward on the east coast and from Bonita Beach southward on the west coast, as well as the Florida Keys. The government of the Bahamas issued a tropical storm watch for the northwestern Bahamas, including the Abacos, Andros Island, Berry Islands, Bimini, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama Island and New Providence.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez declared a state of emergency Friday as the county monitors the storm’s track.
The Miami-Dade area may experience heavy rain and gusty winds through the weekend, according to a county government news release. Rainfall amounts between Friday and Monday are expected to range between 6 and 10 inches.
“We are looking at experiencing heavy rainfall through Monday and possible tropical storm force winds beginning Sunday,” Gimenez said.
In the Guatemalan village of Quejá, landslides and flooding caused by the storm left at least 100 people dead and more than 150 homes buried, Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei said Friday.
The scenes out of the country are heartbreaking. People leaving their flooded homes, walking to safety in waist deep water, some carrying the few belongings they were able to save. In Puerto Barrios, a man was seen carrying a dog to safety in the floodwaters, while others were sitting on higher ground outside their flooded homes.
“This morning we counted four deaths; That figure has now risen to over 50 deaths due to the mudslides happening in the area of Huehuetenango and San Cristóbal,” Giammattei said.
The catastrophic rainfall caused deadly mudslides, leaving at least 25 homes buried in the central area of San Cristóbal, with approximately 50 people inside, according to Giammattei.
Rescue crews are on their way to the area on foot because access is severely hampered as roads have been destroyed by the severe rains, the President said.
More than 33,000 people have been impacted by the landslides and floods so far. At least 1,800 people have been evacuated and 400 are in shelters, according to official data.
Ripping through Honduras
It’s a similar scene in Honduras.
The deadly storm slammed into homes blowing away metal roofs and knocking down trees and power lines.
Two people are dead and six others missing in Eta’s aftermath. And more than 360,000 people have been impacted by the storm, according to the country’s Permanent Contingency Commission.
Severe flooding has forced people to put whatever they could save on higher ground. In some neighborhoods there were refrigerators, couches and soggy mattresses left in a jumble in dry spots where the water did not reach.
The latest official numbers reveal that more than 3,500 people are being housed in 41 temporary shelters. The country’s infrastructure has taken a pounding too: Nine bridges have collapsed, 51 roads damaged and 41 communities are now isolated.
The region will continue to get heavy rainfall through Tuesday morning. Eastern Honduras, eastern Nicaragua, southeastern Mexico, Jamaica, the Cayman Islands and parts of Cuba will be affected by the rainfall.
Eta on its way to Cuba and Florida
But Tropical Depression Eta is not done yet.
It’s expected to strengthen back into a tropical storm by Friday night, as it heads northeast toward Cuba.
It is currently forecast to pass over Cuba on Saturday night into Sunday morning before turning back to the northwest and entering the Gulf of Mexico early next week, according to CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford.
The storm is expected to bring tropical storm-force winds, surf and heavy rainfall.
A tropical storm warning is in effect for the Cayman Islands and the Cuban provinces of Camaguey, Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus, Villa Clara, Cienfuegos and Matanzas. A tropical storm watch is in effect for the Cuban provinces of La Habana, Artemisa y Mayabeque, Pinar del Rio and the Isle of Youth.
After pummeling that region, Eta is expected to head toward Florida.
As the storm moves across Cuba and over the Straits of Florida, it will enhance the heavy rainfall potential across southern Florida, especially across the east coast metro region.
“Recent heavy rain across the region has led to saturated ground and urban flash flooding could become a threat by the end of the weekend and into early next week depending on the forward movement of the storm,” CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam said.
But it is still unclear how strong Eta will be by the time it approaches Florida, he added.
A flood watch is in effect for the southeastern coast of Florida, from Friday evening through Tuesday evening, with 5 to 10 inches of rainfall possible.
Miami-Dade County will be opening an evacuation center at 2 p.m. ET Saturday for residents living in mobile homes, low-lying areas, or anyone else who needs refuge, according to a county government news release.
All county Covid-19 testing sites in the area have been closed and will remain closed until the storm passes and conditions are safe to reopen, the release said.
Eta had made landfall along the coast of Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday afternoon.
CNN’s Tatiana Arias, Harmeet Kaur, Michelle Mendoza, Kiarinna Parisi, Juan Paz, Robert Shackelford and Derek Van Dam contributed to this report.