Tropical Storm Eta dumps torrents of rain on Florida; man electrocuted

Tropical Storm Eta dumped torrents of blustery rain on Florida’s west coast as it moved over Florida after making landfall north of the heavily populated Tampa Bay area Thursday morning, triggering some flooding but no major damage. A man south of Tampa Bay was electrocuted and died when he stepped into his flooded garage.

The storm slogged ashore near Cedar Key, Florida, and moved northeast across the state, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. Its maximum winds fell to 40 mph during the day and by late afternoon it was located about 90 miles south-southwest of Charleston, South Carolina.

Although it was not the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. this year, Eta still had broad impact across the Tampa Bay region and was linked to at least one death there.

In Bradenton Beach, Mark Mixon stepped into his flooded garage as he was laying sandbags around his home on Wednesday evening and was electrocuted, said Jacob Saur, director of public safety for Manatee County. There were appliances plugged into the garage and Mixon was killed when he stepped into the water, Saur said.

Rescue crews had to wait for Florida Power and Light, which was responding to power outages from the storm, to shut down the electrical grid for the neighborhood where Mixon lived before they could assist, Saur said.

The storm forced the closure of some lanes of Tampa Bay bridges because of storm surge but they were reopening Thursday. Also reopening was the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which links Pinellas and Manatee counties.

J.P. Brewer, owner of Salty’s Gulfport, was cleaning up after her beachside restaurant flooded Thursday morning.

“It was pretty bad last night when I came in,” she said, adding that there were already 3 to 4 inches of water inside by just before high tide. “We’re in here doing our cleanup today and assessing the damage. I think we fared pretty well considering as bad as it looked last night.”

She said there was also some debris on the patio.

“I’ve been here almost eight years and we’ve never had water damage,” Brewer said. “This is the worst I’ve seen.”

Several sailboats broke free from their moorings and washed ashore in Gulfport, including the vessel where Mo Taggart has lived for two years with her dog. She thinks the boat is a total loss.

“I mean, it was disaster,” Taggart said. “I mean, I came out here. My boat’s just up against the seawall, just smashing, smashing … I need to get another boat. I want to be back on the water, (my dog) wants to be back on the water.”

Firefighters in Tampa rescued around a dozen people who got stuck in storm surge flooding on Bayshore Boulevard adjacent to the bay. Some vehicles remained on the roadway Thursday. Isolated neighborhoods also experienced enough flooding to evacuate.

The storm had meandered in the Gulf of Mexico since crossing over South Florida on Sunday.

The Tampa Bay region is home to more than 3.5 million people across five coastal counties. No mandatory evacuations were ordered, but authorities opened shelters for anyone needing them. Local media reported only a handful of people showed up.

The storm prompted school closures across the area. Tampa International Airport closed Wednesday afternoon but was back in operation early Thursday. A coronavirus testing site at Tropicana Field was also closed Wednesday.

President Trump approved a federal emergency declaration for 13 counties along or near the Gulf coast, adding them to South Florida counties the storm struck previously.

Eta first hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane and killed at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico, with scores more missing. It then moved into the Gulf of Mexico early Monday near where the Everglades meet the sea.

Eta then crossed over the Florida Keys island chain at Lower Matecumbe Key, but the densely populated areas of Miami-Dade and Broward counties to the northeast bore the brunt with heavy rainfall and flooding.

Earlier this year, CBSN Originals explored how climate gentrification was threatening Miami’s last pockets of affordable housing in the documentary “Rising Tide: Priced Out in Miami.”

Eta was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. A 29th named system, Tropical Storm Theta, was centered Thursday about 455 miles south-southwest of the Azores and moving east.

This extraordinarily busy season has focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing wetter, stronger and more destructive storms.

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