Two found dead, 8 rescued from boat capsized off Florida Keys

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(Reuters) - Two people died and eight others were pulled from the sea alive on Friday after a boat capsized near the Florida Keys, where rescue teams were searching for an unconfirmed number of other people reported in the water, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

"We've gotten reports from all across the Lower Keys about people in the water," prompting a wide search of the area by sea and air, Coast Guard Petty Officer Nicole Groll said, adding it was possible that more than one vessel had overturned or sunk.

She said the agency had yet to ascertain the origin of the victims or the circumstances that led to their emergency.

"We're trying to get people out of the water and make sure we rescue everyone, then we'll get to those questions," Groll said.

Key West and other islands making up the lower end of the Keys archipelago lie about 90 miles (145 km) from northern Cuba, the origin of many migrants attempting to cross the Florida Straits to reach the U.S. shores in often-overcrowded, flimsy boats.

Since October of last year, the Coast Guard has intercepted more than 3,700 Cubans trying to make that passage. On Friday alone, the Coast Guard repatriated 76 Cubans detained in several such recent interdictions off Florida's coast, Groll said.

By comparison, about 1,200 Cuban migrants were interdicted during the three previous fiscal years combined, the Coast Guard said.

The recent surge has coincided with a downturn in Cuba's economy, struggling from U.S. sanctions and reduced international tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)