HAVANA (Reuters) – Tropical storm Eta pounded central Cuba with torrential rain on Sunday, bursting the banks of rivers and causing flash flooding in some towns before exiting via the island’s northern coast and churning on track to the Florida keys.
Tens of thousands of Cubans had evacuated ahead of Eta’s landfall early on Sunday, state-run media reported, after the storm killed dozens in flooding and landslides across Central America and southern Mexico.
Packing maximum sustained winds of 95 kilometers (59 miles) per hour, Eta dumped up to 328 millimeters (12.9 inches)of rain on central Cuba, Cuba’s meteorology office said, warning the ground would struggle to absorb this as it was already saturated due to recent heavy rains.
State-run media posted images of people wading knee-deep through muddy water in some smaller towns. But several residents of the cities closest to Eta’s path, Sancti Spiritus and Ciego de Avila, told Reuters they had not seen any flooding there yet.
Still, the outer bands of the uneven weather system would continue to lash Cuba, moving from east to west, in the days ahead, the office said, with flooding expected in Havana too.
State-run media showed images of workers already out in central Cuba removing fallen trees from roads while the head of Cuba’s Electric Union Jorge Cepero was cited saying there were some outages but the grid did not appear to have been significantly damaged.
The outer bands of Eta also continued to affect Jamaica on Sunday and a major landslide was reported in the mountains on the outskirts of the capital, Kingston, rendering the road impassable and isolating residents.
Like Cuba, Jamaica had already experienced about three weeks of heavy rains, generating at least $18 million in damages to roads and infrastructure as well as $13 million in agricultural losses, according to the government.
In Guatemala’s central region of Alta Verapaz, fresh landslides have halted rescue workers’ efforts to dig through mud as much as 50 feet (15 meters) deep to reach buried homes where as many as an estimated 100 people disappeared.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) said that waves of heavy rain were already spreading across South Florida and the Florida Keys, and 6-12 inches (152.4 mm to 304.8 mm) of rain were possible over this region during the next few days.
The NHC issued a hurricane warning and storm surge warning for the Florida Keys from Ocean Reef to the Dry Tortugas, including Florida Bay.
A tornado or two could occur over South Florida or the Florida Keys from Eta this evening through Monday, according to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center.
(Reporting by Reuters TV in Havana, Sarah Marsh in Bonn, Additional Reporting by Kate Chappell in Kingston and Bhargav Acharya in Bengaluru; Editing by Frances Kerry and Chizu Nomiyama)