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A Soggy, Stormy, Flooded South Florida And Increasing COVID-19 Infections

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Heavy rain from Tropical Storm Eta fell on top of an already saturated South Florida. Rainfall in October in Fort Lauderdale was twice norma. It was almost three times a normal October in Miami, according to National Weather Service data.

It was wet before Tropical Storm Eta hit South Florida with high winds and storms. And the rain kept coming — flooding streets, parking lots and homes. Also, COVID-19 infection rates are climbing and more people are in the hospital with the virus.

Flood waters returned to some areas Thursday that still hadn’t dried out from the rain brought by Tropical Storm Eta earlier in the week. A waterlogged South Florida is mopping up from a very wet stretch.

Meantime, the region is seeing an increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations as we approach Thanksgiving and the holiday season.

WLRN is here for you, even when life is unpredictable. Local journalists are working hard to keep you informed on the latest developments across South Florida. Please support this vital work. Become a WLRN member today. Thank you.

Both topics were discussed on this week's South Florida Roundup.

WET WEATHER

Some parts of western Broward County received more than a foot of rain in 24 hours from Eta. And Broward has measured about a half year's worth of rain in just the past 30 days, according to WLRN's environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich.

"It's really stunning," she said.

Widespread and fairly severe in some places, is how Broward County Chief Resilience Officer Jennifer Jurado explained this week's flooding.

"Some of the communities were fairly isolated for several days as they were just inundated and only the houses peeked up out of the water, but not the roads," she said.

Jurado and Staletovich pointed to the wet October for saturating the ground and filling up water storage areas near the Everglades. Jurado said monitoring stations indicated groundwater levels five feet higher than usual, greatly limiting the ability of any more rain to drain away quickly.

"There was nowhere for the water to go. Everything has been at its capacity for nearly a 30-day period," said Jurado. "And so under conditions like that, it isn't surprising that we would see the level of flooding because drainage systems are not necessarily designed to operate under those supersaturated conditions for such a long period of time."

"The Everglades and the conservation areas out west were absolutely full, too, in part because they were getting the same rainfall," Staletovich added.

CLIMBING COVID CASES

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing again in South Florida. The trend started picking up statewide about three weeks ago, according to Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an infectious disease epidemiologist with FIU. She said the increase in cases "is accelerating."

Friday's infection rate in Miami-Dade County was 9.2%. Two weeks ago it was 5.8% according to the county's data.

Broward's infection rate has climbed from 4.3% on Oct. 30 to almost 9% Friday.

Palm Beach's was 9 percent, and Monroe County's stood at 13% Friday, according to the state's COVID report.

"It's really only the last couple weeks when we started to see an increase in the slope. That is an acceleration in the numbers of cases that we're seeing," said Trepka. "So, yes, we have evidence of community wide transmission, in terms of the number of cases — the number of people testing positive — and the numbers of people who are presenting to the emergency rooms with symptoms that are consistent with COVID-19."

The jump remains less than what the region experienced during the summer surge of the virus. The infection rate remained over 10% for, what Trepka described as, "a long period of time."

"We're definitely coming up. The concern is once transmission starts to get going and there's more cases in the community, it tends to multiply pretty quickly," said Trepka. "And the other problem is once the cases go up, they go up pretty quickly. It takes a long time for them to come down again."

In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.