By Associated Press
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A deluge of rain from Tropical Storm Eta caused flooding Monday across South Florida’s most densely populated urban areas, stranding cars, flooding businesses, and swamping entire neighborhoods with fast-rising water that had no place to drain.
Elsewhere, forecasters announced that Subtropical Storm Theta, a record-breaking 29th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, had formed far out in the northeast Atlantic by late Monday night. It posed no immediate threat to land.
Eta made landfall in the Florida Keys and posed a serious threat across South Florida, which was already drenched from more than 14 inches of rain last month.
“Never seen this, never, not this deep,” said Anthony Lyas, who has lived in his now-waterlogged Fort Lauderdale neighborhood since 1996. He described hearing water and debris slamming against his shuttered home overnight.
Florida officials say one of the major COVID-19 testing sites in the state suffered major damage due to the extensive rain.
Samantha Bequer, spokeswoman for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said parts of the Hard Rock Stadium’s site were trapped beneath 16 inches of rain. Throughout the pandemic, it has been one of the state’s busiest places for people to get a coronavirus diagnosis.
All of the testing sites in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties managed by the state government closed on Sunday and Monday due to the tropical storm. State officials said testing sites in Lee County also were forced to close due to the storm’s impact. The state has not officially said when it would reopen any of them.
After striking Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killing nearly 70 people from Mexico to Panama, the storm moved into the Gulf of Mexico early Monday near where the Everglades meet the sea, with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph.
“It was far worse than we could’ve ever imagined, and we were prepared,” said Arbie Walker, a 27-year-old student whose Fort Lauderdale apartment was filled with 5 or 6 inches of water.
“It took us 20 minutes to navigate out of our neighborhood due to the heavy flooding in our area,” Walker added. Floodwaters also submerged half of his sister’s car.
It was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. And late Monday, it was followed by the 29th — Theta.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Theta broke the record of 28 named storms in 2005. Theta had developed about 995 miles southwest of the Azores, bearing top sustained winds of 50 mph as that system moved eastward at 15 mph.
Late Monday night, Eta was about 180 miles southwest of the Dry Tortugas, moving southwest at 9 mph. Forecasters said the storm, which had slowed in recent hours, was expected to strengthen overnight as it meanders in the southeatern Gulf of Mexico.
Eta hit land late Sunday as it blew over Lower Matecumbe, in the middle of the chain of small islands that form the Keys, but the heavily populated areas of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties bore the brunt of the fury.
Forecasters said the system could intensify again into a minimal hurricane as it slowly moves up the southwest Gulf Coast. It is just far enough offshore to maintain its strength while dumping vast amounts of water across the lower third of the Florida peninsula.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis called it a 100-year rain event.