Heavy rains are continuing across the region, increasing the risk of potentially deadly flooding and mudslides.
Tropical Storm Eta dumped torrents of blustery rain on the US state of Florida’s west coast as it moved over Florida after making landfall north of the heavily populated Tampa Bay area on Thursday morning.
The storm slogged ashore near Cedar Key, Florida, with maximum sustained winds of 85 kph (53 mph). The National Hurricane Center in Miami predicted Eta would then move northeast across Florida as it loses strength. Eta briefly gained hurricane strength on Wednesday morning, but forecasters said it later weakened to tropical storm status.
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. Appliances were plugged into the garage and when Mixon stepped into the water, he was killed, Saur said.
Rescue crews had to wait for Florida Power and Light, which was responding to power outages from the storm, to de-energise the grid for the neighbourhood where Mixon lived before they could assist, Saur said.
There were no other immediate reports of any injuries or serious damage in the Tampa Bay area as the storm skirted past that region on Wednesday afternoon. Several tornado warnings were issued, but there were no reports of one touching down.
On Thursday morning, much of the Tampa Bay area was under a storm surge warning. The storm forced officials to close some lanes on two of the three bridges that cross Tampa Bay, connecting the St Petersburg area to Tampa, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, which links Pinellas and Manatee counties, was closed on Wednesday but reopened after winds died down on Thursday morning.
JP Brewer, owner of Salty’s Gulfport, was cleaning up after her beachside restaurant flooded on Thursday morning.
“It was pretty bad last night when I came in,” adding that there were already three to four inches (77mm-100mm) 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.”
Firefighters in Tampa rescued around a dozen people who got stuck in flooding on Bayshore Boulevard. On Thursday morning, there were still a few abandoned vehicles on the flooded roadway, WFTS in Tampa reported.
Late on Wednesday residents of Twin Cities Mobile Home Park in St Petersburg were forced to evacuate because of flooding, the television station reported.
Another St Petersburg neighbourhood, Shore Acres, also reported heavy flooding.
The storm had meandered in the Gulf of Mexico since crossing over South Florida on Sunday. At 4:20am EST on Thursday, Eta was centered about 10 kilometres (six miles) north-northeast of Cedar Key and moving northeast near 20 kph (12 mph).
Eta is forecast to dissipate over the western Atlantic Ocean by the weekend.