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Eta Lashes Florida’s Gulf Coast, Causing Power Outages

MIAMI — Tropical Storm Eta continued to whip the Gulf Coast of Florida early Thursday morning, producing dangerous storm surge, heavy rain and gusty winds in the region and leaving tens of thousands without power.

Eta was expected to make landfall on Thursday morning, its second time coming ashore in the state this week, according to an early morning advisory from the National Hurricane Center.

The center of Eta was about 80 miles north west of Tampa and had maximum sustained winds of 60 miles per hour, the agency said. Slow weakening was expected as Eta approaches the West Coast of Florida overnight, followed by more rapid weakening after landfall. Eta, the center said, will dissipate over the western Atlantic Ocean by the weekend.

By early Thursday morning, more than 40,000 customers were without electrical power from Tampa to Gainesville, according to Duke Energy. Streets were submerged just days after Eta soaked the central part of the Florida Keys and its strongest winds battered the Upper Keys and Miami-Dade and Broward Counties over the weekend.

On Wednesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida urged Florida residents to prepare for the storm and said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had granted his request for “a pre-landfall emergency declaration” to help mobilize federal aid to the affected parts of the state.

“It’s really been a crazy storm to watch,” Mr. DeSantis said.

Earlier on Wednesday the storm had briefly regained hurricane strength but weakened again to a tropical storm.

Mayor Jane Castor of Tampa said Wednesday that the city was expecting a tidal surge of up to four feet. She urged people to remain at home but said five shelters had been opened. She warned that “the weather can change in an instant” and asked residents to stay vigilant.

“This storm has been less predictable than most storms,” she said. “This one has changed its trajectory more than once — and it may do it again — so we want to ensure everyone is safe.”

Josh Rojas, a reporter with Spectrum Bay News 9, said one thoroughfare in St. Petersburg, Coffee Pot Boulevard, was “completely flooded.”

Eta is the 28th named storm and the 12th hurricane of an unusually busy Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30. The storm’s formation tied a record set in 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma devastated parts of the Gulf Coast.

Eta first became a tropical storm on Oct. 31, according to the hurricane center. It grew into a category 4 hurricane and thrashed Nicaragua on Nov. 4, killing at least three. By Nov. 9 the storm then traveled to South Florida where it caused intense flooding and produced more than 13 inches of rainfall.

Eta has now produced nine named storm days, according to Philip Klotzbach, a meteorologist at Colorado State University. Only two Atlantic named storms forming in November in the satellite era had generated more named storm days: Epsilon in 2005 with 9.25 days and Gordon in 1994 with 9.5 days, he said.

Mayor Lenny Curry of Jacksonville, in Florida’s northeast corner, said the storm was expected to hit the city on Thursday, bringing heavy rain, strong winds and some flooding. He urged residents to stay out of the water, warning that the surf and rip currents could be dangerous. The city did not anticipate evacuations and planned to keep municipal offices open.

“I know this has been a rough year,” Mr. Curry said at a news conference. “2020 has been something else for our country, the world and our community, and experiencing a tropical storm after the end of hurricane season just adds to it.”

Azi Paybarah and Michael Levenson contributed reporting.

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