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Eta Places Parts Of South Florida Under Tropical Storm Watch

After wreaking havoc as a hurricane in Central America earlier this week, Tropical Depression Eta is regathering strength on a path that could steer the system toward Florida as soon as this weekend.

The Florida Keys and portions of southern Florida are under a tropical storm watch, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Eta’s undefined path could take the system toward the Gulf Coast early next week, a Friday afternoon forecast said.

The National Hurricane Center anticipates Eta will approach the Cayman Islands early Saturday and be near central or western Cuba Saturday night and Sunday.

From there, the cone of probability takes a wide path from western Florida to the middle of the Gulf of Mexico.

“The wind field of Eta is expected to increase in size during the next few days, and the cyclone will likely produce a large area of tropical-storm-force winds on its north side when it is near Cuba, the Florida Keys, and southern Florida,” the Hurricane Center stated in a mid-afternoon advisory.

Ports along Florida’s southwest coast --- Tampa, St. Petersburg, Manatee, and Ft. Myers --- have already been advised by the U.S. Coast Guard to expect sustained gale-force winds of 25 mph, with gusts up to 40 mph, by midday Monday.

“These ports and facilities are currently open to all commercial traffic and all transfer operations may continue while (port condition) Whiskey remains in effect,” the Coast Guard stated in a mid-day release Friday. “Mariners are reminded there aren't safe havens in these facilities, and ports are safest when the inventory of vessels is at a minimum. All ocean-going commercial vessels and ocean-going barges 500 gross tons and above should make plans for departing the port.”

Eta slammed into Nicaragua on Tuesday as a Category 4 hurricane, causing devastating flooding and mudslides. Landslides in Guatemala left dozens of people dead, according to Guatemalan officials.

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