Eta races off to sea from Carolinas after soaking Florida

Flooding is seen at Tampa General Hospital as Tropical Storm Eta sends torrential downpours, storm surge flooding and wind across the Tampa Bay Area on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. (Luis Santana/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Tropical Storm Eta became a post-tropical cyclone Friday as it raced off into the Atlantic Ocean, having delivered heavy rains and gusty winds to the Carolinas after blustering across north Florida.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Theta was moving closer to Europe, and yet another storm was brewing in the Caribbean Sea, where forecasters said Tropical Depression 31 could get a name — Iota — later Friday or Saturday. Forecasters warned that it could be near major hurricane strength as it approaches Central America late Sunday and Monday, following a path of death and destruction left by Eta last week.

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

One death in Florida was linked to Eta, along with some scattered flooding. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said Eta’s remnants would pick up forward speed in the next day or so as it pulls away from the Southeast seaboard.

The storm system triggered flash flooding, multiple water rescues and road closures, and at least one collapsed bridge in South Carolina, said Sandy LaCourte, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Greenville, South Carolina.

Eta spawned in the Caribbean and then hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane, killing at least 120 people in Central America and Mexico. Then it left on a meandering path across Cuba, the Florida Keys and the Gulf of Mexico before slogging ashore again near Cedar Key, Florida. It finally crossed Florida and the Carolinas in a matter of hours after buffeting the Tampa Bay area with gusty winds and rain.

In Bradenton Beach, Mark Mixon stepped into his flooded garage as he was laying sandbags around his home Wednesday evening and was electrocuted, said Jacob Saur, director of public safety for Manatee County.

Earlier, firefighters in Tampa had to rescue around a dozen people who got stuck in storm surge flooding on a boulevard adjacent to the bay. Some vehicles remained on the roadway Thursday. Isolated neighborhoods also experienced enough flooding to evacuate.

Several sailboats broke free from their moorings and washed ashore in Gulfport, Florida, 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.”

Eta was the 28th named storm of a busy Atlantic hurricane season, tying the 2005 record for named storms. Theta, the 29th, was centered Friday south-southeast of the Azores, and moving east with top sustained winds of 60 mph.