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. The system 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.
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. As much as 16 inches of rain damaged one of the state's largest COVID-19 testing sites, at Miami-Dade County's Hard Rock Stadium, officials said. Throughout the pandemic, it has been among the busiest places to get a coronavirus diagnosis. The site was expected to be closed until Wednesday or Thursday.
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. It is the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. Hurricane season lasts until Nov. 30.
By mid-afternoon Monday, the storm was about 140 miles west-southwest of the Dry Tortugas, moving southwest at 16 mph. It was expected to slow down and strengthen overnight. Rain and wind were felt as far north as the Tampa Bay Area. 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. "Once the ground becomes saturated, there's really no place for the water to go," Trantalis said. "It's not like a major hurricane. It's more of a rain event, and we're just doing our best to ensure that the people in our community are being protected." City officials dispatched some 24 tanker trucks with giant vacuums to soak up water from the past few weeks. Some older neighborhoods simply do not have any drainage. The city also passed out 6,000 sandbags to worried residents over the weekend, but water seeped into homes and stranded cars in parking lots and along roadways. "There was just so much rain in such a short amount of time there was no where for it to go," said Fort Lauderdale resident Morgan Shattuck.