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Eta brought catastrophic rainfall to Central America. Now it will likely turn to the US

Eta might have weakened to 30 mph winds, but the lingering tropical depression is still forecast to dump another 10 to 15 inches of rain in some areas. That means parts of eastern Honduras and eastern Nicaragua — which have already been inundated by heavy rain — could see up to 40 inches of rainfall total over the course of the storm.

As of Thursday morning, the storm was about 80 miles southwest of the city of La Ceiba along Honduras’ northern coast, and it was moving at just 9 mph.

“Because of the slow-moving nature of this storm, it has resulted in catastrophic rainfall and sets up the potential for deadly landslides and flash flooding,” said CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray.

The NHC warned this could produce “catastrophic, life-threatening flash flooding and river flooding,” and landslides in parts of Central America with higher terrain.

“The mountainous terrain across Central America makes it even more vulnerable when it comes to flash flooding and landslides,” Gray said.

Isolated areas of southeastern Mexico could see up to 20 inches of rain. The threat of flooding extended to the Cayman Islands and Cuba, which could see another 10 to 20 inches of rain, the NHC said.

Eta made landfall along the coast of Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane Tuesday afternoon, devastating the region. At least one death was reported, and more than 2,000 people were evacuated in Honduras, the country’s Permanent Contingency Commission said on Wednesday. The storm destroyed five bridges, 14 roads and 339 homes, the commission reported.

The storm’s intensity weakened quickly, dropping to a tropical depression by Wednesday evening. And it is expected to dwindle further through Thursday night until its remnants cross into the Gulf of Honduras and travel toward the Caribbean Sea, according to CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam.

Storm could reintensify before hitting Florida

Eta is expected to strengthen back into a tropical storm before it is forecast to cross into western Cuba Saturday night and then into the Straits of Florida by Sunday afternoon, according to the National Hurricane Center.

There is still a lot of uncertainty about the strength with which Eta will reach the US coast, but it is likely to continue to bring heavy rain, life-threatening flash flooding, river flooding and landslides, Van Dam said.

The potential for heavy rain and flash flooding will increase Thursday night and into Friday morning, according to the National Weather Service in Miami, with anticipated rainfall totals between 7 and 10 inches on Florida’s east coast.

2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season Fast Facts

But rainfall totals depend on Eta’s track, which remains largely uncertain, the NHC cautioned.

“Many computer forecast models agree this storm will regenerate over the northwestern Caribbean Sea on Friday and track towards Cuba,” said CNN meteorologist Judson Jones. “Once the cyclone moves over Cuba, the models are consistent in showing the impacts to southern Florida, but not exactly where those impacts will be — leaving low confidence in precisely where this storm could go at the beginning of next week.”

“It could mean one landfall or even two landfalls in Florida,” he added. “Anywhere from Miami, all the way around to Pensacola.”

Southern Florida is already saturated from an active 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, which has tied with 2005 for the record number of named storms in a single season.

CNN’s Brandon Miller, Jason Hanna, Theresa Waldrop and Michael Guy contributed to this report.

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