HAVANA (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Cubans began evacuating their homes on Saturday as Tropical Storm Eta neared the Caribbean island’s southern coast, threatening torrential rain and flooding after killing dozens in Central America.
The storm is expected to make landfall in central Cuba overnight, the Cuban meteorology’s office said, warning of winds of 90-110 km per hour (56 to 68 miles per hour), a storm surge and heavy coastal flooding.
Inundations could be a problem more broadly, it said, given that Cuba was already waterlogged in the wake of recent heavy rains, and Eta could potentially dump more than 300 mm (12 inches) of water on the country. Already, outer bands of rain had unleashed 95 mm (3.7 inches) of water on eastern Cuba.
Cuban authorities, who are known for preparedness in the face of natural disaster, said that farmers were moving their livestock to secure locations and harvesting as much crop as possible before the storm hit.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said damaging tropical storm-force winds, with hurricane-force winds possible, were expected from Sunday night in the Florida Keys and parts of southern Florida.
Heavy rainfall could also spark flash flooding there, it said.
One of the fiercest storms to hit Central America in years, Eta struck Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday with winds of 150 mph (241 kph) before weakening to a tropical depression as it moved inland and into neighboring Honduras and Belize.
Across swaths of the mostly poor countries wedged between Mexico and Colombia, high winds, torrential rains and catastrophic flooding caused deadly mudslides and damaged hundreds if not thousands of homes.
(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)