Strengthening tropical storm Eta cut across Cuba on Sunday and aimed at its tip Florida, Officials in Mexico and Central America nodded to the storm that could hit the hurricane force after it killed scores and left more than 100 missing.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami has issued hurricane and storm surge warnings for key areas from Ocean Reef to dry Torcos, including the Gulf of Florida, and the storm is expected to reach that area Sunday night or early Monday morning.
Florida authorities have closed beaches, harbors and checkpoints, shutting down public transportation and urging residents to stay away from the streets. Several shelters have opened in Miami and the Florida Keys for mobile homes and low-lying residents.
Broward County also privately closed school on Monday, and Miami was ready to do the same.
On Sunday afternoon the Etta was blowing at a maximum speed of 65 mph, centering 115 miles (185 kilometers) southeast of Marathon, north of Cuba, and about 140 miles (225 kilometers) southeast of Miami. It was moving northwest at a speed of 14 mph (22 km / h).
In Cuba, where 25,000 people have been evacuated, storm surges have caused rivers to flood. But there were no reports of deaths.
Etta struck Cuba while searchers in Guatemala were digging for people believed to be buried by a large, rain-fed landslide. On Sunday, authorities raised the death toll from 15 to 27, saying more than 100 people were missing in Guatemala, many of them in a landslide in San Cristobal Verabas.
About 60,000 people were evacuated in Guatemala.
At least 20 people have been reported dead in southern Mexico and 21 by local authorities in Honduras, although the National Disaster Agency has confirmed only eight.
Pope Francis spoke of the population of Central America on Sunday, saying “a violent hurricane has struck, causing many casualties and great damage, and the epidemic has already worsened the situation.” Speaking to faithful people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, Francis prayed that “the Lord welcomes the dead, comforts their families, and sustains all who have tried, as well as all who have been able to help them.”
In Florida, Governor Ron Desantis declared a state of emergency for eight counties at the end of the state on Saturday, urging residents to store supplies as Etta approaches.
Miami-Tate County declared a state of emergency Friday night and warned flood monitoring would be in place until Tuesday night.
Further south of the key, authorities have been closely monitoring the storm, but have no plans to evacuate tourists or residents. They urged residents to protect their boats and encourage visitors to consider changing plans until the Etta Pass.
Etta initially hit Nicaragua as a Type 4 hurricane, and officials from Panama to Mexico were inspecting the damage following a few days of torrential rain during the week.