WATCH LIVE: The latest imaging and expected forecast track for Eta are in the player above
South Florida remains in the cone of concern for now Tropical Storm Eta on Wednesday, which could be a tropical storm as it possibly approaches the local area this weekend.
Eta drenched northern Nicaragua and Honduras Wednesday after devastating communities along the country’s Caribbean coast and setting off deadly landslides that killed at least three people in Central America.
The storm had weakened from the Category 4 hurricane that battered the coast Tuesday, but it was moving so slowly and dumping so much rain that much of Central America was on high alert. Eta had sustained winds of 40 mph and was moving westward at 7 mph.
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The long-term forecast shows Eta weakening to a tropical depression Wednesday, taking a turn over Central America and then reforming in the Caribbean — possibly reaching Cuba on Sunday and southern Florida on Monday.
Monroe County's Emergency Management office said it would be monitoring the storm. An NHC forecaster said that while strengthening is not expected, the Florida Keys could experience high tides and "a significant risk of tropical storm force winds."
"While it is too soon to determine the exact timing, magnitude, and location of possible impacts from wind and rainfall, interests in Cuba, southern Florida and the Florida Keys should monitor the progress of Eta through the week," the NHC said.
Greater certainty of the storm will not be known until Friday, but Monroe County Emergency Management Director Shannon Weiner said that "this is a good time to make plans to batten down the hatches for this weekend with an expectation of potentially damaging wind gusts up to 65 mph."
In Bilwi, the main coastal city in Nicaragua’s northeast, civil defense brigades worked to clear streets of downed trees, power lines and sheets of metal roofing. Some neighborhoods were completely flooded. Vice President and first lady Rosario Murillo said more than 51,000 families remained without power in the affected areas.
“The debris teams are starting to work and we still can’t give a sense of what happened,” said Ivania Díaz, a local government official in Bilwi. “We have seen very humble homes completely destroyed.”
South of Bilwi, closer to where Eta came ashore Tuesday, the seaside Miskito community of Wawa Bar was devastated. The military had evacuated the community before Eta hit, but what residents found Wednesday was distressing. Wind-twisted trees, shredded roofs and some structures damaged beyond recognition sat within view of the sea.
“There’s nothing standing here,” an unidentified resident told a local television station. “Wawa Bar is now a Miskito community where destruction reigns.”
Inland there was flooding in Sarawas and the Prinzapolka river had risen more than 10 feet (3.7 meters) and threatened communities along its banks. “We are watching the Prinzapolka because there could be risk of an overflow,” Murillo said in a news conference Wednesday.
Murillo said the government was preparing a damage report that would be used to request international assistance. In what she called “good news,” Murillo said that among 10 babies born in the Bilwi area during the storm, one was given the name Eta Wilson.
Nicaragua’s meteorology director Marcio Baca said the storm was saturating the north and Pacific coast of the country with heavy rain. He compared it to Hurricane Joan in 1988.
Eta was located Wednesday afternoon 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
Two gold miners were killed in a landslide Tuesday in Bonanza, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of where Eta made landfall, said Lt. Cesar Malespin of the Bonanza Fire Department.
In the northern province of Jinotega, communities were already flooded. Floodwaters took down a suspension bridge over the Wamblan river and some 30 people were evacuated early Wednesday from Wiwili, according to local radio.
Northern Nicaragua is home to most of the country’s production of coffee, a critical export. Lila Sevilla, president of the National Alliance of Nicaraguan Coffee Producers, said they were concerned about landslides that could affect coffee plants and block roads needed to bring the harvest to market.
“It’s still early to evaluate the impact of the rain, but we can expect damage to the road network in the northern towns,” Sevilla said. The harvest hadn’t started yet, but extended rain could cause the coffe to mature too quickly and affect its quality, she said.
By Wednesday afternoon, Eta was skirting the Nicaragua-Honduras border. Honduras has already been feeling the effects of the storm since at least Sunday.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast that parts of Nicaragua and Honduras could receive 15 to 25 inches (380 to 635 millimeters) of rain, with 40 inches (1000 milimeters) possible in some isolated parts.
Early Tuesday, a 12-year-old girl died in a mudslide in San Pedro Sula, the main population center in northern Honduras, according to Marvin Aparicio of Honduras’ emergency management agency.
On Wednesday, Aparicio said some 379 homes had been destroyed, mostly by floodwaters. There were 38 communities cut off by washed out roads and five bridges in the country were wiped out by swollen rivers.
Authorities had performed some 200 rescues, he said.
In the Pacific, Tropical Storm Odalys continued to move across the open ocean and posed no threat to land.