Already flooded, South Florida feels Eta’s wrath

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FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. – Torrential rains from Tropical Storm Eta caused dangerous flooding in Florida’s most densely populated urban areas on Monday after making landfall in the Florida Keys. Cars were stranded and entire neighborhoods were submerged as flash floods multiplied in areas where water had no place to drain. The wide range of the system and heavy rains posed a serious threat in South Florida, an area already inundated with more than 350 millimeters of rain last month. Eta could dump an additional 6 to 12 inches (150 to 300 millimeters), forecasters said.

“In some areas the water does not pump as fast as it comes in,” Miami Dade commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz warned.

The center of Eta made landfall on Sunday evening as it blew over Lower Matecumbe, amid the chain of small islands that form the Florida Keys. It was moving through the Gulf of Mexico early Monday, near where the Everglades meets the sea, with maximum sustained winds of 100 km / h. It was centered south of Naples, moving west-northwest at 20 km / h.

Forecasters said it could re-intensify into a minimal hurricane as it slowly moved up the southwestern Gulf Coast, centered just far enough offshore to maintain its strength while dumping copious amounts of water into the third. lower Florida peninsula.

Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis called the event a 100-year-old rain, inundating already saturated streets.

“Once the soil is saturated, there really is no more room for the water,” Trantalis said. “It’s not like a major hurricane. It’s more of a rain event, and we’re just doing our best to make sure the people in our community are protected. ”

City officials have dispatched some 24 tankers with giant vacuum cleaners to soak up the water from the past few weeks. Some older neighborhoods just don’t have drainage. The city distributed 6,000 sandbags to concerned residents over the weekend, but water has seeped into homes and cars stuck in parking lots and along roadsides.

Rance Ford sat on his pickup truck in his driveway in Fort Lauderdale, imploring motorists to slow down as the wake crept dangerously close to his front door. “I’m not going to get my car out of this mess,” he told the South Florida SunSentinel.

“It was bad,” Mike Williams, a Fort Lauderdale resident, told WSVN. “You can’t even go home, man. When I got there I was, like, I was just shocked.

A semi-trailer truck was left dangling from the elevated Palmetto Freeway in Miami early Monday morning, the Florida Highway Patrol reported. The driver lost control on the rain-soaked road and was slightly injured, CBS 4 reported in Miami.

“Please take this storm seriously,” urged Palm Beach County Emergency Management Director Bill Johnson. “Please don’t drive on flooded roads. ”

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said he was in frequent contact with county water officials over the struggle to drain the flooded water, which stalled vehicles, swept intersections and entered in some houses.

Firefighters pulled a person from a car that had entered a canal Sunday night in Lauderhill, Fla., North of Miami. The patient was hospitalized in critical condition, according to a statement from Lauderhill Fire.

In the Florida Keys, the mayor has ordered mandatory evacuations for mobile home parks, campgrounds and RV parks and those in low lying areas. School districts have closed, saying roads were already too flooded and winds could be too strong for buses to carry students. But the islands were spared any major damage and officials expected shelters to close and schools to reopen on Tuesday.

Eta was not yet over with Cuba, just 90 miles south of Florida, where the storm continued to swell rivers and flood coastal areas on Monday. Some 25,000 people were evacuated without any reported fatalities, but the rains continued, with total accumulations of up to 635 mm (25 inches).

Eta first struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane before wreaking havoc in Central America. Authorities from Panama to Mexico were still monitoring the damage after days of torrential rains. The official death toll stands at at least 68 people, but hundreds more are missing and several thousand are in shelters after flash floods devastated makeshift housing communities on unstable mountainsides.

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Associated Press editors Marlon Gonzalez of Tegucigalpa, Honduras contributed to this report.

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